Judge Michael David steps down to join private law practice

The Hon. Michael P. David
The Hon. Michael P. David

Michael P. David, who earlier this year celebrated 25 years as a judge in the St. Louis Circuit Court, is stepping down Jan. 2 to return to private law practice. He will be joining the law firm of Williams Venker & Sanders, where he will develop a mediation and arbitration practice as well as consulting and participating in the firm’s litigation practice.

David, who was the Circuit’s presiding judge in 2003-04, said, “I have been proud to be a member of this court and will continue to wear that pride ‘on my sleeve’ after I leave. It has been an honor to have served with so many who are always interested in being the best that they can be.”

David said his predominant memories probably would relate to the intense personal tragedies associated with the many cases he has heard, both criminal and civil. He recalled, for example, a murder trial in which the mother of a teenage girl who had been killed sat through the entire proceeding. Also present for the same time on the other side of the courtroom was the mother of the defendant, a young man, whom the jury found guilty.

“At the end, they realized that they had each lost a child. After the verdict, they came together in the middle of the courtroom and embraced. It was awesome to see each sense and acknowledge the loss of the other,” he said. “To see the quiet dignity of people who suffer these tremendous losses and not be touched by it would be less than human.”

David said he began thinking of making some kind of change from the court after presiding over two massive tobacco cases in 2011. “They were the most challenging thing I’d ever done in the law, keeping up with teams of excellent lawyers who worked long hours so that they could keep the jury fully occupied while on duty. Each case was an all-encompassing experience, exhausting but exhilarating,” he said. “After that, I began to feel that I had seen just about everything from the bench and wondered what I could do to keep my mind active and challenged,” he noted. “I never wanted to become the judge who should have retired five years earlier. The litigants and their lawyers do not deserve that.”

In discussing what he will miss most besides the people, he said, “Being a judge allows you to be involved with the law in its purest form. Your only client is the law, and you can represent that client with no external constraints. I have cherished that and suspect I will miss it.”

David then smiled broadly and added, “But I am very excited to be getting off this horse and onto another as I continue to ride off into my sunset.”

An avid baseball fan, he drew an analogy of a judge to an umpire: “I’ve been calling balls and strikes now for 25 years — I’ve had a front row seat to Bob Gibson/Willie Mays’ showdowns.” But he acknowledged, “I haven’t thrown a pitch or swung a bat in that same time, and I’d like to see what’s left in the tank.”

David worked in private practice and as an assistant public defender before being elected to the state legislature in 1983 from a district that included parts of downtown and the Near South Side. He was appointed associate circuit judge in 1989 while serving a fourth term as state representative. He was appointed circuit judge three years later.





Senior Judge Thomas Grady retires after 38 years












Thomas C. Grady, the senior judge of the St. Louis Circuit Court and its unofficial historian, will retire Jan. 1, 2015, after 38 years on the bench.

Grady has had a keen lifelong interest in St. Louis history and architecture and often peppers his remarks from the bench with historic references — occasionally to the puzzlement of younger lawyers. For example, when a lawyer’s questioning of a witness meanders too far, he will caution that growing up in South St. Louis, he always preferred the Grand streetcar, which ran in a straight line, to the 39th Street streetcar, which “ran all over the place.”

He has compiled a collection of thick scrapbooks and poster boards of court history, often annotated with his comments and opinions, which he will bequeath to the new presiding judge.

His love of history and architecture has put him on several local boards, including the Commission of the Missouri History Museum, and sometimes expresses itself in his personal style. He is one of the fashion holdouts for straw hats in the summer. He drove a ’54 Mercedes 220S sedan through the Eighties, replacing it with a ’48 Packard. A self-effacing man, he sold the Packard when a friend told him it attracted much attention in his travels about town.

After a period of relaxation — “You’re always on when you are a judge, and it’s stressful,” he says — Grady plans to finish a book on the history of Vandeventer Place and to write an article on the sociology of the larger cotton boats that once frequented the St. Louis wharf.

Grady was elected a city magistrate in 1976, assigned to criminal misdemeanors. In a reorganization of the courts, he became an associate circuit judge in 1978, where he contributed to the administrative design of the present 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri.

As the court’s presiding judge in 2007-2008, he had to rebuild the current centralized docketing system to eliminate the potential for lawyers steering cases to specific judges. “I stood my ground on the importance of random assignments,” he recalls. “At the time, few seemed to understand how to develop a central assignment system.”

He added, “The thing I’m most proud of is appointing Judge Joan Moriarty as the first Criminal Assignment Judge in Div. 16. In her first year, she disposed of 1,000 backlogged cases. It relieved jail crowding and saved city budgets hundreds of thousands.”

The thing he has appreciated most about serving on the bench is the interaction with lawyers. “The trial lawyers here have a very high standard,” he said. “The young lawyers have been very patient with me. I have tried to help them develop a three-dimensional perspective on St. Louis.”

Asked to recall outstanding cases over his 38 years, he struggled. “My point of view has always been that each case is important in its own right, and that’s what our laws provide,” he said. “I’ve always been a little embarrassed about everyone standing when I enter the courtroom. But it’s out of respect for the law, and not for me, so I endure it.”

After some thought, he settled on a 1998 civil case involving tainted blood products that led some hemophiliacs to develop AIDS. “There were excellent lawyers on both sides, and it was a pleasure to work with them,” he said. A three-week trial resulted in a plaintiffs’ verdict of $1.4 million. “It turned out to be something of a landmark, because 36 similar cases around the country rapidly settled after that.”

While he acknowledges that certain court reforms have improved justice, he complains that they have sanitized the atmosphere and removed some of the charm and colorful people from the courthouse. “In those days, when a young person got into trouble, he had to seek out help from adult friends and family to gather funds, and that usually involved a bail bondsman. This, in turn got more responsible people involved in the young person’s life. The bondsmen were some tough characters, and they tended to worked with certain attorneys, and they each had their collection agents waiting around in the hallways. I miss that Damon Runyon environment.”