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First panel sent to governor for appellate court

Donna Walter//March 17, 2009//

First panel sent to governor for appellate court

Donna Walter//March 17, 2009//

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The Appellate Judicial Commission on Friday named the first of three panels of candidates for openings on the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District.

The panel consists of Judge Jacqueline A. Cook, Cynthia L. Reams Martin and Mark D. Pfeiffer.

Gov. Jay Nixon issued a statement Friday voicing support for the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan and applauding the Appellate Judicial Commission on its choice of nominees.

“The individuals whose names I received today are bright, qualified legal minds, and I look forward to interviewing each of these nominees personally. This panel stands as a testament to the fact that the Missouri plan has produced courts that have served the state well for decades, and which should be protected in the future,” Nixon said Friday. Nixon spokesman Sam Murphey did not return messages Monday.

Cook, 50, of Belton, is the presiding judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Cass and Johnson counties. She earned her law degree in 1989 from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

She was first elected circuit judge in 2001 and became the presiding judge of the circuit last year. Cook said she believes her experience as both a trial lawyer and a trial judge would be an asset if she were to be named appellate judge.

“Much of what the court is being asked to do is to review to see whether or not a judge has committed error. So familiarity … with the many issues facing trial judges would be helpful,” she said Monday.

After graduating from law school, Cook served as a law clerk for Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. when he was on the Court of Appeals Western District. She credits Gaitan for helping her develop what are now her strengths: researching, analyzing and writing.

“I’m very inquisitive about the law; I enjoy studying the law,” she said.

Cook’s private practice was focused on criminal defense work, primarily white-collar crimes, and complex civil litigation, according to her application to the Appellate Judicial Commission. She said in her application that most of her state court criminal cases were resolved with guilty pleas, while her federal court cases were resolved by conditional pleas and through appeals.

Since she’s been on the trial bench, Cook has presided over all types of civil and criminal cases. She has also served by special designation on both the Western District appellate court and the Missouri Supreme Court, according to her application.

Martin, 49, is a solo practitioner in Lee’s Summit. She earned her law degree in 1984 from UMKC, where she was valedictorian. Martin was a finalist for Western District positions twice in 2007, when James E. Welsh and Joseph P. Dandurand were appointed, and once in 2001, when Lisa White Hardwick was named to the court.

Martin opened her law practice in September 2000. She works on business and commercial litigation matters as well as transactions and projects. Martin represented Cass County in its fight against Aquila over a controversial power plant in the area. The Kansas City-based utility decided to build the plant without seeking prior appeal. Last year, the Western District appellate court affirmed an injunction to dismantle the plant because it was built illegally. The Public Service Commission, which had granted the power plant retroactive permits, withdrew its motion for a rehearing or transfer last September.

Martin was out of the office Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Pfeiffer, 41, is a shareholder in the Columbia law firm of Bley & Pfeiffer. His 1991 law degree is from the University of Missouri.

He said he has “always had a passion for appellate advocacy,” including the written advocacy involved.

“The role of the judge is not only to declare the law but to do so in a fashion so that there’s a clear statement of why the opinion is the law,” he said Monday.

This is the first time Pfeiffer applied for a judgeship. In the 1990s he defended Wal-Mart at least three times in personal injury lawsuits in federal court. In 1995 Pfeiffer and Wally Bley started their plaintiff personal injury law firm. According to Pfeiffer’s Web site profile, about 95 percent of his practice is devoted to litigation.

Pfeiffer said in his application that he served as lead counsel in “hundreds of lawsuits” that settled prior to trial. Since 1998, he said, he has provided a minimum of 50 hours each year in pro bono work for indigent clients and charitable organizations. He is the volunteer general counsel to Ronald McDonald House Charities, The Crossing Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Missouri United Methodist Church and Daniel Boone Little League Youth Baseball. He is also a Little League coach.

In his application, Pfeiffer compared the Court of Appeals to a baseball team. “I believe that the teamwork and collegiality of judges serving together in the appellate court system should mirror the camaraderie of teammates in a baseball dugout,” he wrote.

Nixon has 60 days to select one member of the panel to fill the vacancy. After Nixon’s selection, the commission will select the second and third panels from the same applicant pool. The vacancies exist due to the retirements of Judges Ron Holliger, Paul Spinden and Joseph Dandurand.

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