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WJA 2022: Elizabeth Rohrs

Elizabeth RohrsPolk County Circuit Court

With a resume that would make any parent gleam with pride, Judge Elizabeth Rohrs reflects on her career with humility, attributing her talents as “God-developed” and citing her natural tendency to be courteous as the asset most responsible for her success as a jurist. She won’t brag and tell you that she was her high school valedictorian, graduated from college at the top of her class, or even was on the Dean’s List at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, where she received the Moot Court Award.

However, don’t be fooled by her deferential demeanor; Judge Rohrs is a determined trailblazer. As the first woman to practice law and serve as a judge in Polk County, Elizabeth Rohrs can remember when her male colleagues would mistake her for a clerk and perhaps make an unwelcomed gesture. “There were men attorneys who weren’t always … but what should I say,” she paused. “Uh, I generally took control of those situations, and then it was no longer an issue.”

Raised in Polk County by educators, Rohrs credits her parents for providing the intellectual freedom to realize her fullest potential. “I hurried through college. I got my degree in English and my education certificate so that if I didn’t get into law school, I had a profession.” Her teaching career lasted one semester as she had no issue getting into law school.

Before serving as Associate Circuit Judge in Polk County, Rohrs worked in private practice, taught business law and communications at Southwest Baptist University and served as a municipal judge. In 2014, her confidence in competing in a male-dominated field came in handy when she filed as the only female in a four-way race for circuit judge and received 55% of the vote.

Working in smaller counties allows judges to handle a wide range of cases. “I’m the family court judge. I’m the probate judge. I have mental health cases, associate civil cases, and some felonies for jury trials,” explains Rohrs. She added that many of the cases she sees result from child abuse and domestic violence that stem from substance use disorders and mental health issues.

But as with most smaller communities, she often will see many defendants while she’s grocery shopping, or their children may have been on a sports team together, or they worship at the same church. “In some ways, it’s humbling; you know I’m still Elizabeth to the people I went to high school with,” she says. “It’s rewarding too, but you have to remain fair and impartial; judges would just recuse themselves in an urban setting, but you can’t do that as easily in a rural setting.”

Nevertheless, Rohrs will preside over cases she describes as “haunting,” and she stresses that taking care of yourself is necessary. Family time brings peace and comfort. “I love beautiful things. I love growing flowers, going to art museums, and I try to be intentional to do something restorative that fills me up.”

Women's Justice Awards 2022