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Judy Draper- Circuit Judge, St. Louis County

In some ways, Judy Draper’s path to the law stemmed from childhood trips to the grocery store. Born in Seoul, South Korea, she remembers walking with her immigrant mother — and the local children who threw rocks at them while telling her mom to “go back to China.”

“As a kid, I just felt like this is not right, and there has to be a way to respond to this and let people know this is not just,” said Draper, whose father was an American GI and brought his family to the United States after the Korean War.

Today, she works to find just solutions for litigants on a daily basis from her bench in Missouri’s largest county. For her work, the Howard University Law School graduate has received meaningful accolades, including two presented earlier this year — the Dred Scott Freedom Award and the Women of Achievement Award for Multicultural Awareness.

A founding member and former president of the Missouri Asian-American Bar Association, Draper also has been honored by the YWCA and NAACP and is a recipient of The Missouri Bar’s annual Theodore McMillian Excellence in Justice Award, among other recognitions.

Draper came to the United States as a child of 6 or 7.

“As I grew up, I realized that laws were related to a branch of government,” she said. “I think that’s what attracted me initially to have this passion [for the law].”

She began her career clerking for the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., but she has taken on a variety of jobs. The first female general counsel for the Missouri Department of Corrections, she also is a former prosecutor for the City of St. Louis and an adjunct professor of pre-trial practice at Washington University. Before joining the county bench, she served as a municipal judge for Northwoods and Berkeley in suburban St. Louis.

The Missouri Supreme Court has tapped her for the Missouri Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession and the Education Committee for the Missouri Municipal and Associate Circuit Judges Association. Draper also was appointed last year to serve on the Host and Program Committee for the National Consortium on Racial & Ethnic Fairness in the Courts, for which she convened a law forum on issues that arose after the 2014 shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson.

Draper said she tries her best to educate self-represented parties in her courtroom to ensure they can present their cases fairly and accurately.

“Judges are public servants to the people,” said Draper. “Especially for those who are unrepresented, we need to make sure that they have confidence in their access to justice.”

She also established a diversity and inclusion committee for her circuit.

“We have brought in some national speakers, some local speakers and have had panel discussions on what we as a court, along with our staff, can do to help litigants of diverse backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities when they come in,” she said.

Throughout her work to ensure fair treatment for all, the memory of the harassment faced by her mother endures.

“I think that was the genesis of my feeling that there had to be a system that would let other people know that you don’t treat each other like this,” she said. “I think that’s where my sense of justice came about.”