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Publisher’s letter: Meet our first 2015 award winners

Stay tuned for Lawyer of the Year

Correction: Missouri Lawyers Weekly used the incorrect title for Saint Louis University law professor and Missouri Lawyers Award recipient John J. Ammann. He is a supervisor in SLU LAW’s civil litigation clinic.

richard-gardAt the end of each January the Missouri Lawyers Awards honor those legal professionals who made the biggest impact to the law and the legal world during the preceding year. For 2014, impact is an understatement.

Our first-wave announcement of 2015 Missouri Lawyers Award winners include big names, giant feats and issues larger than just Missouri. Our honorees include a big-city mayor who set out to slay Missouri’s gay marriage prohibition; the lawyer who got a murder defendant exonerated 24 years after the crime; a federal judicial appointee vindicated, and at last elevated, 15 years after his original nomination; the bipartisan team that revamped the Missouri criminal code; and the major players in the legal aftermath of that fateful Saturday afternoon in Ferguson.

We announce the year’s top newsmakers in stages and divide them into categories. This week we announce our top influencers, champions and law firm leaders. Next week we unveil our choice for Lawyer of the Year. In early January, we go to our exclusive database and tote up the winners, plaintiffs and defense, of Missouri’s biggest verdicts and settlements. On Jan. 30 we celebrate all of them at our Missouri Lawyers Awards luncheon in downtown St. Louis.

Influential Lawyers

This is the newsiest of our newsmaker categories, the one in which we recognize, according to our well-established rule, “those Missouri lawyers who most influenced important legal events” during 2014. Against that criterion, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch stands out as one of Missouri’s most influential lawyers of the year. Within days of former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s having felled Michael Brown, McCulloch came under searing scrutiny for how he’d handle the prosecution, and whether he even should. Approve or disapprove of how he responded to the pressure, the unconventional path McCulloch chose continues to reverberate throughout the country and has set intriguing precedents for the grand jury process and public access to information.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay shares some of the Ferguson limelight, as do other honorees mentioned below. Though the shooting didn’t take place within Slay’s city, he immediately assumed public leadership. He did the same on the issue of gay marriage. By issuing same-sex marriage licenses in deliberate violation of Missouri’s ban, he forced the issue before the Missouri courts.

We honor U.S. District Judge Ronnie L. White as an influential lawyer for an accomplishment 15 years in the making: appointment to the federal bench. Defeated in a vitriolic U.S. Senate floor vote in 1999, White got a do-over in 2014. He sailed through the Senate, straight to the Eastern District of Missouri federal bench and next year’s Missouri Lawyers Awards.

State Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Stan Cox, R-Sedalia, spent their last year in the Legislature working across party lines on a long-awaited revamp of the state’s criminal code. While they corralled lawmakers and a reluctant governor to pass the bill, Eric Jennings, chief of staff to Senate Judiciary Chairman Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, worked behind the scenes to write (and rewrite and rewrite) the massive and massively complex bill.

Legal Champions

For Legal Champions we recognize Missouri lawyers who took on important causes, win or lose. We use the category this year to recognize two more players in the Ferguson story. We honor Anthony D. Gray for his role representing the Brown family, a legal assignment that put him in the highly visible role of check on the system, from the autopsy to Z.

Saint Louis University law professors  John J. Ammann, Susan McGraugh and Brendan Roediger championed other forms of accountability related to Ferguson, including challenging the predatory use of municipal warrants against the poor. It has truly been a team effort, with Ammann focusing his efforts on abuse of municipal warrants, McGraugh’s advising and defending the rights of demonstrators and Roediger’s playing a key role assisting both.

Legal champion Robert B. Ramsey ended a 24-year nightmare for Mark Woodworth before the client was to be tried a third time for the murder of his neighbor in Chillicothe when he was 16. Ramsey’s persistence got both evidence and prosecutors tossed out, until finally a special appointee declared the case against Woodworth without probable cause.

Influential Appellate Advocates

In selecting the year’s most significant appellate cases, and the victors behind them, we zeroed in on four advocates. Douglass F. Noland persuaded a unanimous Missouri Supreme Court to reject the Legislature’s attempted punitive damages cap. To Noland’s client, a woman defrauded by a car dealership, the ruling was worth $1 million.

Armstrong Teasdale’s Thomas B. Weaver saved his client $240 million on appeal, two-thirds of the Doe Run lead smelter toxic tort award from 2011, one of the largest verdicts in Missouri history.

Harness Dickey’s Rudolph A. Telscher’s victory came before the U.S. Supreme Court, making it easier for companies to recover their attorney’s fees in challenging intellectual property opportunists derisively referred to as patent trolls.

In baseball, it ain’t over ’til it’s over, to quote jurist Yogi Berra. Robert W. Tormohlen, of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh, won his client another day in court after a Jackson County jury turned a blind eye to his client’s claims for a detached retina. The incident happened at a Kansas City Royals game, where the team’s mascot misfired a souvenir hotdog into the crowd and the client’s face.

Law Firm Leaders

We use the occasion of the Missouri Lawyers Awards to recognize law firm executives who have demonstrated, according to our criteria, “extraordinary vision, innovation and leadership during the year.” For 2014, we recognize Mark D. Hinderks, co-managing partner and one of the architects of the merger that resulted in Midwest regional firm Stinson Leonard Street.

Firm Chairman Patrick J. Whalen will receive an award for his taking Spencer Fane Britt & Browne to greater revenue, higher profits and Denver.

We honor David M. Woods for assembling a 40-plus-lawyer firm in just two years, opening a Kansas City office for Wall Street’s Hughes Hubbard & Reed.

More details on each of these honorees will come at our awards luncheon, Friday, Jan. 30, at the Ballpark Hilton in downtown St. Louis. Stay tuned next week for our announcement of the Lawyer of the Year. Then, after the first of the year, look for our Verdicts & Settlements winners. On that note, please make sure to submit your 2014 case results to us by Dec. 15 so we can make sure to count them in our tabulations. In the meantime, congratulations to our winners above and those to come.mo

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