Associate Circuit Judge John R. Essner Dies at 69

St. Louis County Circuit Court
105 South Central Avenue
Clayton, Missouri 63105



Associate Circuit Judge John R. Essner Dies at 69

CLAYTON, MO – August 17, 2020 – Judge John R. Essner died Friday, August 14, 2020, after a long battle with cancer. He was 69.

Judge Essner was appointed Associate Circuit Judge in 1999 by Gov. Mel Carnahan. He graduated with B.A. cum laude from the University of California-Los Angeles in 1973, and obtained his law degree cum laude from St. Louis University School of Law in 1976.

For more than twenty years, Judge Essner was a staff attorney for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, becoming the first director of its Volunteer Lawyers Program. He also created a project to mobilize law students to help people navigate the Federal Emergency Management Assistance and Small Business Administration’s federal flood relief systems in the wake of the catastrophic flooding in 1993. In honor of his decades of dedicated service, Legal Services created the John R. Essner award. It is given annually to young lawyers to recognize their legal work on behalf of individuals marginalized because of their poverty and status.

Humble and hardworking, Judge Essner helped thousands of Legal Services clients, and was a guiding light for hundreds of young lawyers, to whom he imparted his ethos of caring and commitment to the welfare of others. One of them was Circuit Judge Jason Dodson. Judge Dodson worked with Judge Essner at Legal Services as a law student, later joining him on the bench in the 21st Circuit.

"Every cell of his body was devoted to public service, something which fueled his time on the bench," said Judge Dodson. "I was always amazed at his work ethic and his ability to recall complicated finer points of law, but it was how much he cared for the people he served that I will never forget."

Presiding Judge Michael D. Burton described Judge Essner as a “gentle man who had a bold impact on the community.”

“Despite his physical challenges, Judge Essner still worked on orders up to the end, always concerned that everyone in his courtroom was treated fairly,” Judge Burton said. “He was all about making sure that the ‘little guy’ was never forgotten. In particular, victims of domestic violence and children caught in the middle of horrible custody battles were always treated with dignity and respect.”

Judge Essner was a member of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, St. Louis County Bar Association, Lawyers Association, the Women Lawyers' Association, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

Funeral arrangements are pending.


Associate Circuit Judge John R. Essner


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