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WJA 2021: Caroline M. Coulter

Twenty years ago, the September 11 terror attacks shook this country in waves that continue to reverberate.

coulterIn Caroline Coulter’s case, those waves led the Cape Girardeau native, Southeast Missouri State University sophomore, and a music major from a family of teachers to instead study political science, where a debate teacher encouraged her to continue to law school.

“It made me rethink things,” said Coulter whose subsequent climb through the ranks of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office (twice) and the state Department of Corrections led to a position in the administration of Republican Gov. Mike Parson. “I knew I wanted to serve the public good.”

When it came time for law school, Coulter headed north — not to Columbia or St. Louis, but to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, at less than 50 miles away considerably closer to home. The SIU law school, established in the public interest in 1973 to serve the public good, was the first in Illinois to include pro bono work as part of its graduation requirement.

After starting her legal career in private practice, Coulter was hired in September 2008 as an assistant attorney general before joining DOC as legal counsel.

Back with the Missouri AG’s office in 2014, she was later promoted to supervisor of the six-attorney habeas corpus unit, defending convictions in state and federal court.

Coulter was on a team of attorneys that litigated the case of Bucklew v. Precythe, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling rejecting convicted death-row murderer Russell Bucklew’s contention that he’d suffer excessive pain. Bucklew, convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and first-degree burglary in 1997, was executed in October 2019.

In her time with the AG’s office, Coulter worked for a pair of Democrats (Jay Nixon and Chris Koster) as well as two Republicans (Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt). She calls her current boss, Gov. Parson, a “man of great character” who “makes my job easy.”

Missouri Supreme Court Clerk Betsy AuBuchon, fellow Women’s Justice Award winner in the public service category, had this to say about Coulter in her nomination:

“A dedicated public servant, Caroline is not content to live in her comfort zone. She has practiced law in some of the most demanding areas of state government (and) skillfully managed numerous and sometimes-daunting tasks.”

“Caroline is unfailingly generous and caring with her colleagues and friends and is happily raising a loving family with her husband Bryan. She is a living example that a woman can be tough, smart and kind.”

With Parson not eligible to run for re-election in 2024, Coulter’s long-term plans remain up in the air. While not ruling out a move to the private sector, she adds: “I love working in the governor’s office — but I do love working for this governor. I’m open to seeing where else I could serve.”

Women's Justice Awards 2021