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ICON Awards 2021: Judy Draper, St. Louis County Circuit Court

Born in South Korea, Judy Draper remembers watching her Asian-American mother be pelted with rocks and taunts and how her African-Judy Draper American father was not allowed in certain lodging establishments on trips.

“Time passed and I learned that the law was a way to change things to make them ‘just’,” she wrote, “and so I pursued this path of justice.”

That path took her from Howard University through positions in government, the corporate world, the criminal justice system, private practice and, ultimately, a judgeship.

After serving as a law clerk in the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., she moved to the Circuit Attorney’s Office in St. Louis where she presented over 200 felony cases to grand juries before becoming a staff attorney at Monsanto Company in the mid-1980s. Later, she’d handle the Anheuser-Busch account for the Smith Partnership, clerk for U.S. District Judge Clyde Cahill and act as general counsel to Missouri’s Department of Corrections where she was chief legal officer for 16 facilities statewide.

Prior to her 2004 appointment as a St. Louis County judge, she served as a judge for the St. Louis area municipalities of Northwoods and Berkeley, an adjunct at Washington University Law School in pretrial practice and procedure and a solo practitioner specializing in personal injury.

Somehow, in the midst of everything else, Draper, who has met three U.S. Supreme Court justices and has a signed photo of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, still had time to found the Missouri Asian-American Bar Association, something she labels as her most important professional accomplishment.

Draper, who is an honorary consul with the St. Louis Consular Corps, also has chaired the 21st Circuit’s Judicial Diversity & Inclusion Committee and been part of the state supreme court’s Consortium of Racial & Ethnic Fairness.

But it is impacting the lives of others that really matters to her.

“I have had countless people come up to me in public to tell me that I had helped to make their life better,” wrote Draper, “whether as a state government attorney, private attorney, state prosecutor, general counsel or judge.”

Draper is a recipient of the Dred Scott Freedom Award and the Women of Achievement Award for Multicultural Awareness. She also has been honored by the YWCA, the NAACP and is a recipient of The Missouri Bar’s annual Theodore McMillian Excellence in Justice Award.

ICON Awards 2021