When Marion County native Judge Rachel Bringer Shepard graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1992 with a 4.0-grade point average and an LSAT score in the 98th percentile, an Ivy League law school admission was hers for the taking. However, the allure of her home state, studying law with fellow Missourians, and the dream of practicing law in her local community led her to pursue her Juris Doctorate at her alma mater.
Today, Judge Shepard serves as the Presiding Judge for the 10th Judicial Circuit; an appointment received in 2010 by Governor Jay Nixon. Over the past decade, she has presided over more than fifty jury trials, conducted thousands of review hearings, and accepted more than one thousand guilty pleas.
She earned her workhorse reputation back in the Missouri House of Representatives. As a young attorney early in her career, she read every bill and looked for ways to improve legislation and avoid unintended consequences. “I think lawyers in the legislature can be helpful with that,” Shepard said.
Shepard believes that her eight years as a legislator prepared her for her work as a judge by providing opportunities to interact directly with constituents, learn how lawmakers craft the state budget and make sure the courts are fair. “The perspective I try to bring probably goes back to my role as a legislator,” she added.
The caseload varies widely. Shepard will see cases ranging from personal injury to real estate disputes to employment discrimination. “I preside over criminal circuit cases, the treatment courts for the 10th circuit, and then the administrative oversight for our juvenile office.”
She often treats her jurors a bit like constituents by making sure they feel very appreciated when they appear for duty. “Every day during a trial, we try to have an afternoon cookie break.” In addition, Shepard and her mother often bake the cookies they serve. “There’s a lot at stake that our jurors impact for a long time. So, once they leave the courthouse, we want to make sure they know how appreciated they are for their service.”
Lawyers play an integral role in serving the community on various boards and commissions in rural communities. “They have fantastic opportunities to serve on boards of hospitals, libraries, and community organizations.” The lawyer is helping the community while also hearing about the local issues that may appear in the courtroom. “It’s a two-way street,” says Shepard.
Shepard plays piano and sings in the church choir in her spare time. She also is a member of the Beth Haven Board, Parents as Teachers Advisory Council, the Palmyra Kiwanis, the Hannibal Rotary, and King’s Daughter. In addition, she and her husband adopted three boys who are 9, 6, and 5. “Watching them grow and spending time together has been an unexpected blessing,” she added.