From the Missouri Supreme Court
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Thomas F. Simon, who retired last year after four decades as clerk of the Supreme Court of Missouri, died Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, at Capital Region Medical Center in Jefferson City, Mo. He was 71.
“It is with great sadness that all of us in the judiciary family have learned of yesterday’s death of our longtime clerk, Tom Simon,” Chief Justice Richard B. Teitelman said. “We believe he was the longest serving high-court clerk in the country at the time of his retirement, but his legacy went far beyond just his duties here. He truly touched the lives of thousands of judges and lawyers and elected officials throughout the state, and he will be remembered for his dedication to making our courts as great as they can be and his extraordinary ability to build lasting relationships among the branches of government and their leaders. His loss is a loss for the entire state.”
When he retired in the spring of 2011, Simon reflected on the vast changes he had experienced in his tenure with the Court, remembering that when he joined the court in 1971, its workload was so large, it took years for cases to reach final determination; typewriters, ribbons and onion paper were the tools of the trade; there were multiple trial courts within each county and three courts of appeals; judicial compensation relied on county supplements; and most circuit court employees were employed by the counties.
As the registered lobbyist for the Judicial Conference of Missouri (the organization of all the state’s judges and commissioners), Simon was instrumental in the process throughout the 1970s to reform the judiciary, culminating in the legislature’s passage of a constitutional amendment approved by the state’s voters in August 1976. This amendment made significant improvements that continue to this day, including consolidating the multitude of trial courts into a system of circuit courts; consolidating the appellate courts into one court with three geographic districts; allowing judges to be transferred temporarily from one court to another to help manage case loads; and changing the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction so there no longer are significant delays in resolving most cases and all decisions are handled by all seven judges rather than by a division of just three judges.
Simon also helped the courts persuade the legislature to stabilize the judiciary’s budget, bring salaries more in line with the work judges do for the state, and fund a technological revolution that has transformed the way cases are processed and that makes the work of the courts much more accessible to the public. Now the Supreme Court, the court of appeals and the circuit courts in two counties are using an electronic filing system that many other circuit courts are hoping to join in the coming months and years.
“Tom made the modern judiciary a reality,” former Chief Justice Edward D. “Chip” Robertson Jr., who served on the Court from 1985 to 1998, said. “Without Tom, most of the things that we now take for granted – from the constitutional amendment in the ’70s to computerization – would not have been possible. But his influence was far more subtle: He spent much of his time in building relationships with people across government and in the legislature, and everybody just really liked him. There probably wasn’t a legislator who didn’t eat dinner at his house at some point, and he encouraged people to work together for the good of all of state government. Because of his relationships, he was able to blunt the efforts of people with a view of limiting the judiciary’s ability to be fair and impartial, preventing their proposals from getting much traction.”
Former Chief Justice Michael A. Wolff, who served on the Court from 1998 to 2011, agreed. “I think Tom Simon had as much to do as anyone with shaping our modern judiciary,” he said. “He was the unheralded center of it all, truly essential to all the progress we’ve made. Tom was a smart, affable, engaging guy who was a master of relationships. He was like the Wizard of Oz, running things quietly from his office in the Court, but he preferred to remain behind the curtain, doing the hard work from behind the scenes.”
In his tenure with the Court, Simon worked closely with leaders from both chambers of the legislature and both sides of the aisle, and new legislators trusted him to help them understand not only the functions and needs of the courts but also to help them acclimate to working in Jefferson City. At one breakfast at which judges were honoring legislators, many awardees remarked that they felt like they had “made it” in Jefferson City “when Tom Simon gave me his cell phone number.”
Simon had a knack for making everyone around him feel special. United States District Court Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., who served on the state Supreme Court from 1992 to 2008 and as its chief justice from 2001 to 2003, recalled, “I knew Tom during the entirety of my career, all the way back to 1977 when I was admitted to the bar and he signed my license! I first got to know him well when I was a young circuit judge in 1987, and then, when I came on the Court in 1992, we became fast friends. His service to the Court was invaluable, not only in the day-to-day workings of the Court but especially in his exemplary efforts to foster good relations with the legislative and executive branches of government and with Republicans and Democrats alike. He had an uncanny ability to get along with everyone, even in the most trying times, and his involvement in almost any dispute helped to achieve a satisfactory resolution for all sides.
“As a trusted friend and confidant to so many scores of lawyers, judges and legislators over his 40 years on the job, he had much stature in the state Capitol, and so much so that he widely was regarded as one of the most powerful persons in state government,” Limbaugh continued. “The Supreme Court and the Missouri judiciary as a whole always will be in Tom’s debt, and I join all the lawyers and judges in our state in commending his service and in rejoicing a life well-lived.”
Simon’s duties as clerk encompassed many activities. As clerk, Simon oversaw all of the Court’s internal administrative functions, supervised the planning and administrative direction of the Judicial Conference of Missouri, and supervised the admission of new attorneys to The Missouri Bar, the organization of all attorneys licensed in Missouri. In his capacity as treasurer of the state board of law examiners, he supervised the two bar examinations held each year. In his capacity as ex officio treasurer of The Missouri Bar and its advisory committee, he was responsible for collecting annual attorney enrollment fees, distributing bar membership cards to attorneys, maintaining the official records of The Missouri Bar and the bar fund, preparing annual financial reports, and conducting annual elections for The Missouri Bar board of governors. In addition, Simon was a charter member of the National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks, organized in 1973 to improve the skill and knowledge required of those performing the duties of appellate court clerks by conferences, seminars or other educational programs; to promote and improve the contribution of the offices of appellate court clerks within the area of effective court administration; and to maintain facilities for the collection and dissemination of information and ideas with regard to the operation and improvement of the offices of appellate court clerks.
When he retired, Simon noted that one of his more pleasant duties had been to sign the law licenses of new members of The Missouri Bar – and he signed every license by hand in a near-calligraphic way. He said there was no judge serving at any level who had been a judge when his tenure as clerk began and surmised he may have signed the law license of every member of the judiciary. He speculated that he may have signed more law licenses than current active members of the bar.
Simon was born and raised in the Brentwood area of St. Louis, Mo., the son of the late Robert Jr. and Eleanor (McCann) Simon. He worked in accounting for a local hotel and as an insurance adjuster before earning his law degree in 1965 from Saint Louis University. He then worked as vice president and general counsel for General Mutual Insurance Company, overseeing the company’s St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., areas. In 1968, he joined Monsanto as a corporate lawyer specializing in confidentiality, licensing and trademark contracts. In March 1971, he took a leave of absence from Monsanto to work as the grant administrator for the newly formed Missouri Law Enforcement Administration. Less than a year later, Simon was appointed clerk of the Supreme Court of Missouri, effective Jan. 1, 1972.
In recommending Simon for the position, former Supreme Court Judge Joseph J. Simeone wrote to then-Chief Justice James Finch Jr.: “I think Tom is a very bright young man and innovative and has a great deal of initiative. There is no doubt that he has a pleasant personality and in my opinion works well with others.” In a later conversation about Simon’s suitability as clerk, Simeone purportedly told Finch: “If you want someone to handle paper, then Tom is not your man. But if you want someone to handle policy issues, then Tom is exactly your man.”
Staff at the Court celebrated Simon’s 35th anniversary in December 2006. Then-Chief Justice Michael A. Wolff was able to persuade Simon – well-known for his preference to work behind the scenes, avoiding the limelight – to come to the surprise celebration only after having maintenance staff tell Simon that there was damage to a wall in one of the historic building’s courtrooms. And when the Court celebrated the building’s centennial in 2007, then-Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith good-naturedly poked at Simon’s tenure with the Court – saying he “always has been clerk of the Court” and including an early photo of Simon as clerk in a montage of the judges who served on the Court when the building opened in 1907. Stith, along with Judges Mary Russell and Zel M. Fischer, had the opportunity to work with Simon not only as judges but also when they previously served as law clerks at the Court.
At his 35th anniversary celebration, Simon told those gathered, “Working with all the judges and staff of the Supreme Court over the years has been a great experience – always interesting, and always challenging. But more importantly, serving as clerk is a great personal honor that also is professionally rewarding.”
His last day as clerk was May 31, 2011, entering retirement the next day. Simon also was a part owner in Jefferson City’s Truman Hotel and Convention Center. In his spare time, he enjoyed shopping at estate sales and auctions and spending time with family.
Simon is survived by his wife, Diane Marie Hanson Scherling Simon, whom he married Feb. 14, 2008, in Jefferson City; his brother Robert Simon of St. Louis; his sister Joann Mermelstein (and husband Albert) of Columbia; his four children, Susan Becker of Leawood, Kan., Joseph P. Simon of St. Louis, Keith Simon (and wife Christine) of Columbia, Mo., and Christina Simon of Austin, Texas; his stepdaughter, Krystle Scherling of Kansas City, Mo.; eight grandchildren; and five nieces and nephews.
A mass of Christian burial is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at St. Peters Catholic Church in Jefferson City, with burial in Riverview Cemetery in Jefferson City. The Dulle-Trimble Funeral Home in Jefferson City is handling the arrangements. Condolences may be left for the family online at www.dulletrimble.com, and memorials are suggested to the Cole County Historical Society.