April 19, 2021
Bob Buckley, partner at White, Graham, Buckley & Carr, is a regular columnist for The Examiner of East Jackson County. In his latest column, Buckley shares his fond memories of a friend, the Honorable Steven Nixon, who recently lost his battle with cancer. Steve was one of the few lawyers who assisted in passing the legislation that created the eastern venue of Jackson County in 1985.
The article, An Attorney and Judge Who Made His Community Better, was published in the April 16 edition of The Examiner. An excerpt from the article is below.
I first met the Honorable Steven Nixon through the Eastern Jackson County Bar Association. Many of the lawyers in the eastern part of Jackson County belong to this organization. Before COVID, we had monthly meetings that allowed us to obtain an hour of continuing legal education. The meetings, when we are able to reconvene, are all at noon and are held at various restaurants in this part of the county.
When I first began practicing law, our monthly meetings were held at night. My personal favorite was Stephenson’s Restaurant. Obviously, the food was always good and we had some excellent speakers through the years. The evening meetings became less popular as many of the older lawyers either retired or died.
Those of us who remember the night meetings have reminisced about the good old days when we gathered to share a meal and a post-meal beverage. It was the way we really became acquainted with each other. There was a connection among us that is sadly not as evident among the young lawyers today. Some of my best friendships in the profession came from those monthly meetings.
Steve Nixon was a regular attendee at the meetings. I can remember many a night when we would be sitting around the table in the bar at Stephenson’s. Three of the regulars became judges: J.D. Williamson, Steve and my former partner, Mike Manners. The friendships we developed were deep and meaningful to all of us.
I also knew Steve through the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, commonly known by most lawyers in the state as MATA. We all shared a strong desire to preserve the Seventh Amendment trial by jury and the civil justice system. Steve was a passionate member of MATA until he became a judge in 1998.
Steve ascended to the bench to replace one of the great stalwarts in Eastern Jackson County, Jack Gant. Division 5 was home to Steve for 14 years, and he served the citizens of Jackson County proudly. He also served as the presiding judge of the entire Circuit Court, which is a thankless job. I think everyone who tried a case in front of him believed they received a fair trial.
Steve also left his mark on the Circuit Court of Jackson County in a way that benefits everyone who lives east of Blue Ridge Boulevard and has to access the legal system. More than half of the population of Jackson County now resides in the eastern venue. There was a time when there was no eastern venue and the leaders of the Eastern Jackson County Bar Association were constantly struggling to ensure that services were available to the lawyers and their clients in the Independence courthouse.
I spent the next 20 years of my career in an office less than 100 feet from the front door of the courthouse. Thus, it was important to be able to practice in the Independence courthouse.
Steve was a president of the EJCBA at a critical time. Judge Gant was still on the bench and was a fierce defender of the concept of making the courthouse in the county seat available to the citizens of Jackson County; Independence is the county seat, by the way. Judge Gant had served in the Missouri Senate several terms and still had many friends in the Missouri Capitol.
It was decided that if the citizens of Eastern Jackson County were to have unfettered access to the Independence courthouse, it was going to take legislation. Steve and others, along with Judge Gant, fought the good fight and spent a lot of time in Jefferson City getting legislation passed in 1985 that created the eastern venue of Jackson County.
An obstacle to creation of a separate venue was the challenge to the jury pool. There were more minority citizens in the western venue and a constitutional challenge to separate venue was threatened if there was a separate jury pool. A compromise was reached that provided for a common jury pool, which is why citizens in the east have to go to KC for jury duty and vice versa.