Veteran Jackson County judge retires, will focus on education efforts

By Joe Lambe

Jackson County Circuit Judge Peggy Stevens McGraw announced her retirement this week and will be fighting crime on a new front.

After serving 18 years on the bench, she will put more time into her role as president of the board of a northeast charter school.

“I’ve had to send a lot of young men to prison; I feel I did the right thing but it’s hard,” she said. “I was getting cases with horrible facts and they were young, 17, 18, 19 years old.”

She wanted to prevent that and bought a ticket to the same conclusion made by many studies and by Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

“I think education is the key (to preventing crime)” or at least one of the keys,” she said.

McGraw has served on the board of Scuola Vita Nuova for six years and the school will move next year from 544 Wabash Ave. to the nearby renovated former Don Bosco building.

The school name translates to “school of new life” and now has about 178 children from kindergarten to 8th grade, many of them Hispanic and poor.

They hope to increase enrollment to 224 children next year and maybe add another grade, she said.

McGraw, 61, lives in the Sunset Hills area south of the Country Club Plaza. She got involved in the northeast school after a former Missouri appeals court judge founded it.

She was clerk for the appeals court in Kansas City before being appointed associate circuit judge in 1995 and six years later appointed as a circuit judge.

She has served as presiding Jackson County judge and handled many high profile cases, including a recent decision that dismissed a legal challenge to funding for the downtown streetcar line.

The state appeals court upheld her ruling and a downtown business owner has appealed the matter to the Missouri Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether to consider the case.

McGraw said she may drop the gavel to take up a shovel and more to help renovate the old Don Bosco building and grounds.

“I love gardening so I may help with some of the landscaping,” she said. “We may have to get our paint brushes and go paint.”

She also plans to learn Spanish and take courses in photography and artistic painting, she said.

Among high points in her career was early involvement in the Association of Women Lawyers, and her term as president of it.

She also served on the Missouri Supreme Court’s Trial Judges Education Committee for 13 years.

Her last day is Thursday, she said, but she will return periodically for a while to serve as a senior judge.

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