After 30 years, Jackson County judge must retire

judgemessinaSentence heinous criminals, preside over mind numbingly complex civil trials or handle vicious divorces – at least one judge loved it all for three decades.

But Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Edith L. Messina retires at the end of the year because state law mandates it at age 70.

So what has she learned? She spoke of that in a Wednesday interview:

“I think you have to be innately curious to like the job.” Also, really good lawyers are artists.

“They’re amazingly creative and they don’t think of themselves as creative.”

As far as curious, Messina started early. She was raised in South Kansas City, still lives within a few miles of her childhood home, and earned her first college degree in English literature. Then she served two years teaching for the Peace Corps in Nigeria.

Then came law school and in 1984 Gov. Christopher S. Bond appointed her a judge.

On the bench, she once got curious about a psychological disorder in a case. So she went to night school to earn a 2007 master of science degree in counseling psychology.

As far as the details of her many court cases, don’t ask her: “Once you do them they kind of go out of your head.”

What she remembers are skilled lawyers clashing over matters that could range from millions of dollars to human freedom.

“A courtroom is just filled with human drama – every variation of human behavior is at one point or another evident in a courtroom.”

Some things, like the sudden loss of a family member, transcend all life experiences and differences to link humanity.

On the other extreme, “you see joy in a courtroom – when children are adopted, my heavens.”

These days, many judges retire long before they turn 70 to do other things. Messina did not consider it.

“It’s fun to have a job that is interesting enough for people to write novels about or make movies about – you have to consider yourself one of the luckiest people in the world to have a job like that.”

What will she do now? She is not entirely sure but it probably won’t be material for novels.

“I’m going to go home and clean out my closets and garage,” she said, and she may take some university classes and do some mediation work.

But all that is still taking shape. She could get curious about something else.

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