St. Louis Judge Steven R. Ohmer reflects on his 30-year judicial career

Ohmer's last day

Circuit Judge Steven R. Ohmer stepped away from the bench last week after serving the 22nd Judicial Circuit for 30 years. He was appointed an associate circuit judge in 1994 and circuit judge in 2000. Over the years, he has served every assignment at the associate and circuit levels including serving as presiding judge and finishing as the administrative judge for the city’s juvenile court since 2019.

Missouri judges are required by law to retire at age 70. Ohmer’s last day was April 17, the day before his 70th birthday. On his last of work, he donned a necktie he’d never worn before: light-blue tie featuring gavels and the message, “The Cool Judges Club – Official Member.” His staff surprised him with balloons, cakes and a bottle of wine. Before his final docket, lawyers in his courtroom at the Juvenile Division applauded as he took the bench for the last time.

Ohmer said he was proud of his appointment to the Missouri Supreme Court Budget Committee (the CCBC) 26 years ago and serving as the committee’s chair for the past 16 years. He estimated that he has presided over 1,000 jury trials during his career as a judge. He served as an assistant circuit attorney in St. Louis and worked in private practice in St. Louis before becoming a judge. He said he never wanted to retire early because he loved the work and “I wanted to make sure that I was done. So I when I’m finished, I’m finished.”

Q. What sticks with you after more than two decades on the bench?

A. I tried very hard to treat each case with the importance that it was for the people in front of me. For a lot of cases, that’s the end of the road for them. They’re not going anywhere else. They need a decision. They need an understanding. Whether it’s a small claims cases or a divorce, a multimillion-dollar medical malpractice or death penalty case, I’ve really worked hard to not let anything carry over, and deal with that case on its merits, on the facts and the law. You’ve got to make a decision. I was told a long time ago to be able to articulate why you made a decision, not only for yourself but for everyone. So then, you can look yourself in the mirror, you know why you made that decision and you can explain why.

Q. What are you going to miss most?

A. I’m going to miss the opportunity I had to resolve problems for people with the power of the court. That was a good feeling. That was the beauty of being at juvenile (court) and other domestic areas because you have a lot of power. And it’s humbling. It’s very important to be humble when you do that because you know you’re affecting lives. I really enjoyed those challenges in a positive way. I’ve also had great staff throughout my career that have been very supportive. And we’ve had fun.

Ohmer and staff - Copy - Copy
Q. What are you most proud of? Where do you think you made the biggest difference?

A. I think what I’m most proud of is having done all of the duties. I never shied away from any because I felt like that’s my job. The (Missouri) Supreme Court appointed me on a number of cases statewide. So I tried cases in Kansas City, St. Louis County, Columbia, Greene County, Cole County, etc. I had the opportunity, probably because of my work on the (statewide) budget committee. I liked to do those about once a year. I always did that on my own time. That was my vacation because I just thought it was helpful. It was good for me to see how other people and counties did stuff. And sometimes you say, “Hey, we’re not so screwed up.” So I was open to doing that and proud that they’d ask me.

Q. What would you have done differently? Do you have any regrets?

A. I don’t think I have any. It’s important that you move on. And if you live in regrets, you never move on. I tried to tell that to the folks in front of me. We can’t undo what we did but we can move on and it doesn’t do any good to feel sorry for ourselves or beat ourselves up. My father passed when I was 15 of a terrible cancer he got when I was 12 and he just withered away. It was awful. It would be easy to sit there and say “Oh, Life’s not fair.” That’s a disservice. You’ve got to be strong and take that responsibility. And so that’s what I tried to do and try to make him proud. (His death) made me appreciate things and understand life. You could sit there and wallow in it or you just keep going and do what you need to do. As a judge, you want to give everybody a fair chance. And I feel like if we can do that, we’ve done our job. So, I think (my father’s death) did temper me in a good way. It gave me a good balance because I never felt I was somehow privileged.

Q. What are your plans for retirement?

A. There’s an old Spanish proverb that I came across: “How beautiful it is to nothing and rest afterwards.” I have no plans. I’m going to be with family. We’re going to travel. I’ve never been out of the country. We’re going to ease into it. I’m going to play golf, piddle around the house and we’ve got two grandkids and luckily all my family’s here. We’ve going to take some car trips and we’ve got friends in San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, Florida and New Orleans. My wife’s father is from a little town in northern Italy and my grandfather is from a little town in southern Germany. I’ve never been on a cruise, so that sounds neat to me. I’m not going to do anything law related. I’m done. I really just want to relax and enjoy things on my time while we’re still healthy. That’s why I didn’t want to retire early. I love what I was doing and I wanted to ride it out and I did.