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JUDGE JUDY DRAPER

Establishing A Connection

PHOTO COURTESY OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURTS

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BY LISA WATSON

HILE THERE WASN’T one moment when Judge Judy Draper decided she wanted to pursue a career in law, she can trace the roots of her desire to be a fighter for justice back to her days as a child in California. Born in Seoul, Korea, during the Korean War, Draper is the child of an AfricanAmerican soldier and a South Korean mother. The family moved to the U.S. when Draper was about 6, and she learned English quickly, often serving as an interpreter for her mother. “We would walk to the grocery store,” she recalls. “On the way there and on the way back, sometimes we had confrontations because my mother was Asian and she was holding the hand of a little brown child…Back in the ’60s, Koreans weren’t known, and the neighborhoods were segregated. Asians weren’t living in integrated society; they were in Chinatowns… “It hurt me to see someone throwing rocks at my mom and calling her names. I thought, That’s not right. Someone needs to know about that. That’s where I got my sense of what’s right and wrong, and of justice: from wanting to protect her from those kinds of ills in society. I remember thinking that one day I would be in a position to make sure they wouldn’t be able to hurt other people with that sort of attitude.” So it was that Draper went to Howard University School of Law, where she graduated in 1980. That’s also where she met her husband of 36 years, Judge George Draper III, who has served on the Missouri Supreme Court since 2011. They first moved to his native St. Louis shortly after they were married. Today, Judge Judy Draper is an associate circuit judge, where—much like another well-known Judge Judy (of TV fame)—she hears a civil docket, including landlord/tenant disputes, restraining orders, breach of contract and small claims cases. “Whatever she hears, that’s what I hear. Some of our cases come to us, and they want to go to Judge Judy—but sometimes my cases are more interesting than hers.” Before being appointed to her current position in 2004, Draper worked as a prosecutor for the City of St. Louis, an attorney for Monsanto’s law department in the International/Corporate section, an adjunct professor at Washington University School of Law, and as law clerk to the Hon. Clyde Cahill, a federal district judge. “He was one of my strongest mentors and another reason I wanted to emulate what judges do,” she says. Draper later worked as an attorney in private practice and as a municipal court judge for the cities of Northwoods and Berkeley. Beyond her daily work, Draper has actively promoted understanding among groups that sometimes face obstacles to equality: She is a member

“I REMEMBER THINKING THAT ONE DAY I WOULD BE IN A POSITION TO MAKE SURE THEY WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO HURT OTHER PEOPLE WITH THAT SORT OF ATTITUDE.” of the Mound City Bar Association, the Women’s Lawyers’ Association of Greater St. Louis, the National Association of Women Judges, and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. One of the founding members of the Missouri Asian American Bar Association, she chaired its annual ‘Unity Dinner’ for three years. “I suggested that we have a dinner and invite everyone in the community—not just one group or another, but all groups,” she recalls. To everyone’s surprise, the Asian-American and African-American attorneys at the dinner found many similarities in their struggles. “There were instances where the similarities were uncanny in terms of how AsianAmerican lawyers and African-American lawyers were viewed in court, how they were competing for clients, how the law students felt isolated,” she says. “Sometimes it was as simple as, Where can we find the kind of food that our mothers gave us? It was the simple things about life.” Draper also was appointed as Honorary Consul to the Republic of Korea, a role she describes as being a ‘goodwill ambassador.’ There are many

others, both in Korea and in the U.S., who like Draper are “children of war,” and who have been isolated or seen obstacles to their personal and professional progress, she says. “It was an honor as a child of war to have survived in this great country and been blessed to have been a part of the American Dream. They asked me if I would be a bridge to the Korean community, because the first generation of Koreans here has done very well, but their associations are very isolated. They have a Korean town, and stay to their own restaurants and stores. Their connections with me as a Korean American judge will hopefully help them come out and be a part of the process here in St. Louis.” As honorary consul, Draper enjoys the opportunity to give back, and to encourage students to overcome obstacles, while sticking to the principles taught to them by their parents. “I had people to inspire me—Judge Cahill has been inspiring, Frankie Freeman has been inspiring. Just because you don’t have advantages, you can still plow through and continue standing and have hope.” {LadueNews.com}  June 26, 2015

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