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ICON Awards 2021: Judge David C. Mason, 22nd Circuit Court

With 30 years on the bench in the city of St. Louis, Circuit Judge David Mason is a familiar figure to a generation of lawyers, bailiffs, Judge David C. Masonplaintiffs, defendants and other denizens of the Civil Courts Building and Carnahan Courthouse.

Seven miles to the west, Judge Mason is better known as Professor Mason, a 1983 Washington University School of Law graduate who returned to his alma mater six years later as an adjunct, assistant and now head coach of the school’s trial advocacy team — a squad Mason, as a law student, helped lead to the national championship from the American College of Trial Lawyers.

As a coach, his teams have twice won the national championship.

“It feels really good to see the lights go on,” Mason said of his time in the classroom. “When I see that they’ve ‘got it,’ and they’re going to be a top-flight trial lawyer, then I know I’ve done my job.”

Mason remains close with his own trial advocacy coach at WashU, Ronald Carlson, now an emeritus professor at the University of Georgia. He keeps a picture of the pair in his office from a 2019 Florida ceremony at which the judge received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching Advocacy from Stetson University College of Law.

“I saw what his teaching meant to my life,” Mason said, of his decision to teach. “For those of us in the field, our trophies are all the emails and phone calls we get from former students who say, ‘Judge, I just tried and won my first case.’ And as the years go by, they talk about how much it’s meant to their careers to have gotten such a strong start.”

Mason, 65, grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and spent five years as a teen in New York City. After earning his bachelor’s degree at Austin Peay State University, 50 miles from home, he planned to remain in Tennessee for law school at Memphis State until WashU offered him a scholarship.

These days, that commitment is paid forward through a Washington University law school scholarship in Mason’s name.

Prior to his appointment to the bench, Mason served as assistant Missouri attorney general, general counsel to the state Department of Corrections, where he helped develop an inmate grievance system credited with significantly reducing the per capita rate of inmate lawsuits. He then worked in private practice in St. Louis, first at Peper, Martin, Jensen, Maichel & Hetlage and later, at Husch & Eppenberger, and also served as a city housing commissioner.

Lately, Mason has led local efforts to build a downtown monument to honor the hundreds of slaves in Missouri and other states who sued to gain their freedom between 1806 and 1863. The Freedom Suits Memorial, designed by Chicago sculptor Preston Jackson, is set to be unveiled later this year. The cast-bronze sculpture, measuring 8 feet wide by 14 feet tall, will be installed in the east plaza of the Civil Courts Building on North Tucker Boulevard.

Mason’s career achievements have been recognized by both his alma maters; he was named Austin Peay’s Outstanding Young Alumni in 1992 and a distinguished alumnus of the WashU law school in 1999. He’s a member of the American Law Institute, the American Board of Trial Lawyers, and an honorary member of the Order of the Coif.

ICON Awards 2021