Women and minorities have played role in Pettis County


Senior Judge Donald Barnes - Contributing Columnist



Senior Judge Donald Barnes

Contributing Columnist

According to an American Bar Association report for 2014-2015 there were 1,305,705 lawyers then authorized to practice law in the United States or one for approximately every 254 U.S. citizens. Excepting lawyers not in private practice, the average was probably one for every 500-600 citizens. About 45 percent of lawyers are practicing in the private sector. Over half are employed by businesses, banks, local, state and national governments, educational institutions or in the judiciary. A small percent are licensed to practice law but are either retired or involved in pursuits not related to law practice. Forty eight percent of those practicing are in solo practice. Most of the rest are in small law firms, with a much smaller per cent in very large law firms of 100 members or more.

The demographic studies as set out in an article “Status of Men and Women Center on Gender in the Professions,” show several interesting ratios.

Approximately 35 percent of practicing lawyers are female and 65 percent male which comparison is certain to change dramatically in the near future as women now constitute 47 percent or more of law school graduates. Women lawyers tend to leave the practice of law for other pursuits at a somewhat greater rate than men. Thirty one percent of all judges are women. Six percent of lawyers practice part time, but 70 percent of those are female.

The status report also indicates women lawyers earn about 87 percent of their male counterparts, but among new lawyers entering the profession the earnings gender gap is only about 5 percent. When the earnings gaps of all lawyers, male and female, are compared on a racial or ethnic scale, the study showed that compared to earnings of traditionally “white” lawyers in this country African-American lawyers make 93 percent of the income of white lawyers, Hispanics make 96 percent, American Indians make 74 percent, but lawyers of Asian decent make 114 per cent of the income of traditional white lawyers.

Of all lawyers in the U.S., 83 are Caucasian, 10 percent are Black, 4 percent are Hispanic, 2 cent Asian, and 1percent Middle-Eastern.

When I completed law school at Missouri University — Columbia in 1960, there were 59 graduates. Only two were women. Now beginning classes in law school at MU are forty five to fifty per cent women students. The ratio is similar in law schools over the country. Studies show that in only two other major professions, education and nursing, do women have greater representation.

The ABA national figures broken down show approximately one lawyer for every 249 citizens in the U.S. but Pettis County figures are substantially different. Currently there are 31 resident lawyers practicing in Pettis County including three attorneys in the Prosecutor’s office. This does not include four active judges, three retired or senior judges, three fully retired or non-practicing attorneys, seven public defenders whose office is in Sedalia, but who cover five or more counties with two principally assigned to Pettis County and three non-resident attorneys who maintain an office location here but meet clients by appointment only. If the current population of Pettis County is divided by the number of full-time, resident, practicing attorneys and two public defender attorneys, it means there is one practicing attorney for about every 1,100 to 1,200 residents of the county.

The first woman lawyer in Pettis County was Judge Hazel Palmer who, while her father, attorney John W. Palmer, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, attended law school at American University in Washington D.C. After her father left the Washington, she joined him in his practice of law in Sedalia on Jan. 2, 1933. She later became very prominent as a national president of the American Business and Professional Women’s Club, as a member of President Nixon’s Commission on Women’s Rights, Republican candidate for U.S. Senator from Missouri, and was later Associate Circuit Judge in Pettis County..

It was 50 years after Judge Palmer began her practice here, when in 1983, a second and third woman in Pettis County entered law practice. They were Jerusha White Wasson and Cynthia Suddath (now Turley), neither of whom is now in practice. Anne Gardner, now Sedalia city attorney, entered practice here with her father and brother in 1986.

In addition to Wasson, Suddath and Gardner, a dozen or more women attorneys have practiced here including Karen Hunt (Edwards), Barbara Teeple and Jennifer Dickman who are now retired, Brenda Rahm and Jenevieve Jetmore who are no longer here and Tina Luper, Latonya Marshall, Carmen Smith, Kim Tanner, Brianna Thomas and Laurie Ward who actively practice law locally and Debbie Mitchell, judge of the Sedalia Municipal Court. Additionally, there have been several women public defenders who have been assigned to the Sedalia District Public Defender office who counsel persons facing criminal prosecution. Interestingly, at one time Suzanna Jones, a Catholic Nun, was a legal aid attorney who practiced in Sedalia on a service assignment of her Order. Legal Aid no longer has an attorney stationed in Sedalia.

Pettis County has had only one African American resident practicing attorney. He was native Pettis Couny resident Homer G. Phillips who maintained an office at Main and Osage Streets in the 1920s and1930s. He later relocated to St. Louis where he had a very distinguished law career and was a founder and first president of the Negro American Bar Association and a principal founder of the acclaimed Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis. Sadly, at the height of his career, Phillips was murdered on the streets of St. Louis by a disgruntled beneficiary of an estate Phillips was handling in the St. Louis Probate Court.

Judge Donald Barnes in a Senior Judge who resides in Pettis County.

Sedalia Democrat

Judge Donald Barnes in a Senior Judge who resides in Pettis County.

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