JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Jackson County Circuit Judge W. Brent Powell was appointed Tuesday to the Missouri Supreme Court, marking the first high-profile judicial selection by new Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.
Powell will replace former Judge Richard Teitelman, who died in November at his home in St. Louis.
Powell, a 46-year-old Kansas City resident, was appointed by former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt as a Jackson County judge in 2008. He previously spent seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City and also worked as an assistant Platte County prosecutor.
Greitens said Powell has established himself as “an outstanding jurist.”
“He has received high marks for being humble, fair-minded and of the highest integrity,” Greitens said in a written statement accompanying his announcement. “I am confident Judge Powell will be committed to strengthening and improving our court system and guarding the rule of law as a judge on our state’s highest court.”
Powell’s wife, Beth Phillips, was appointed as U.S. district judge in 2011 by Democratic President Barack Obama after serving as U.S. attorney in Kansas City. His sister-in-law, Jennifer Phillips, was appointed to the Jackson County Circuit Court in 2014 by former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon after serving as an assistant county prosecutor.
“Coming from a clan of lawyers, this is a very special day for me and my family,” Phillips said Tuesday in a written statement. “As I step into this new role, I hope to model the humility and judicial temperament exhibited by the late Judge Richard Teitelman who was known for his kindness and congeniality.”
Unlike at the federal level, Missouri Supreme Court appointees are not subject to Senate confirmation. Instead, Powell will face a retention vote for a 12-year term during the 2018 general election.
Powell’s appointment could shift the court a little to the right. Though Missouri appeals judges don’t run as Democrats or Republicans, Teitelman had been appointed by former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden and typically aligned along liberal lines.
Powell’s addition will mean three of the state’s seven Supreme Court judges were appointed by Republican governors.
In Missouri, a special commission screens Supreme Court applicants and recommends three to the governor. The other two candidates had Democratic ties. State Western District Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Hardwick has served as a Democrat on the Jackson County Legislature, and attorney Benjamin Lipman has donated to Democratic candidates, though not in recent elections.
Powell earned a political science degree in 1992 from William Jewell College in Liberty. He spent his high school and college summers coaching a swim team and teaching swim classes, and during his last year in college worked with children at a juvenile detention center in Clay County.
He did constituent services work for former Republican U.S. Sen. Kit Bond before starting at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He graduated in 1996.
In one of Powell’s most high-profile rulings as a judge, he said a state law allowing students to transfer from floundering schools violated Missouri’s Hancock Amendment, which bars unfunded mandates. He ruled in 2012 that the number of students transferring from Kansas City to nearby suburban districts would put financial strain on some of those schools. The ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Voters last November retained Powell for an additional six-year circuit judge’s term. He received 67.5 percent of the vote, a fairly typical amount for Jackson County judges on the ballot last year.
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