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.