Vol. VI, No. 3, Winter 1993

Emory Melton on the Law

State Senator Emory Melton has represented Missouri's 29th district of the Missouri Ozarks in the General Assembly since 1972. He is also a publisher, author, historian, and practicing attorney. Lise Truex interviewed Senator Melton at his office in Cassville, Barry County. Some choice quotes follow:

Although the University of Missouri offered a law school, the vast majority of lawyers from 1890 to 1910 never saw a law school. They studied with other lawyers or simply read the state statutes while serving in a county office for some time.

In the 1890s a lawyer received a license by an examination before the Circuit Judge, frequently questioned by the other lawyers. This later changed in 1905 when the General Assembly created the board of law examiners.

Even as late as 1944 when I took the bar, at least one-third of the 86 persons taking the exam had not been to law school. That practice was changed immediately thereafter.

I've always thought that your quality as a lawyer is not determined by your education, particularly, but by your intellect and your experience, which has to do with what you had to start with.

Some of the best lawyers that I have known are lawyers who did not go to law school.

In the early 1900s, most travel was by trains from county seat to county seat. Where the county seat was not served by rail, the lawyers got as close as possible and rented a livery vehicle.

Paperwork was not as bad then as it is today.

[In earlier days] the principal income of successful country lawyers, and there were not many, came from suits against the railroads and criminal cases. Most lawyers simply eked out a living by writing documents and litigating titles affecting personal property and real estate, domestic relations cases, along with defending criminal cases.


During the period from 1890 to January 1, 1947, the justice of the peace court was the lowest wing of the judiciary. It was not unusual for non-lawyers to practice before the local township justice.

Today's intensity of litigation, in my judgement, is not nearly as pronounced as it was back in the '20s and' 30s and '40s. Once you had a bone of contention going at that time, you really had a bone of contention going, and people would just line up on all sides.

[Melton was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Barry County in 1946 and served two terms in that office.] I defeated a man in the Republican primary in 1946 whose name was Emory Medlin. I've always been grateful that enough folks got the names so mixed up that I managed to win.

You never make money with a case sitting in your office. You've got to settle it before you get anything out of it.

I've always opposed the state furnishing lawyers to defendants. Simply because our tax money

shouldn't have to go to support lawyers who defend the fellow who robbed my house.

Let the judge appoint the attorneys. In my judgement they got a lot better defense when attorneys were defending them free of charge than they're getting today with paid counsel.

The ethics of the bar has probably improved some down through the years, but then there are folks today who would question that, maybe with some justification.

It' s like that old story of the two fellows who were arguing a suit over possession of a cow, and one had it by the tail and the other had it by the horns, and they got to looking around wondering where the lawyers were, and the lawyers were milking the cow.

Bob Wiley [Stone County attorney, interviewed in this issue] is one of the finest men that you will ever meet in your entire life. Bob is too nice a man to be a lawyer.

[Interview by Lise Truex. Transcription by Mary Ellen Suits.]


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