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On February 15, 2024, the Lawyers Association of St. Louis and the Mound City Bar Association presented their 29th Annual Honorable Theodore McMillian Black History Month Dinner at the modern Live! By Loews Hotel at Ballpark Village in downtown St. Louis. Gausnell, O’Keefe & Thomas sponsored the event, another capacity crowd.

This event is a credit to the founding principles of the Lawyers Association, organized in 1934, and that of the Mound City Bar, established 12 years before, to improve the administration of justice; uphold the honor of the legal profession; promote professional development; and provide service to the community. But, perhaps most significantly, both organizations recognized the singular importance of diversity and inclusion in the practice of law. Diversity of voices and opinions was the vision of those early founders of the Lawyers Association, who saw a need to allow admission to any lawyer, no matter their race, gender, religion, or area of practice.

Judge McMillian, who passed in 2006 (Lawyers Association Award of Honor recipient 1970) is one of the Lawyers Association’s greatest members, and the event honors his lasting memory and incredible legacy. In addition to his many amazing accomplishments, Judge McMillion was the first African American Circuit Judge and Court of Appeals judge in the State of Missouri, and also the first to serve on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. But, it is where he got his start as a lawyer that was the centerpiece of this year’s event.

The program was introduced by Ms. Jennine Adamek Moore president of the Lawyers Association, and Ms. Chalanda Scales-Ferguson president-elect of the Mound City Bar. The featured speaker of the night was Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis, Mr. Gabe Gore.

Mr. Gore began his legal career as a law clerk for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, clerking for Judge John Gibson, who was good friends with Judge McMillian at the time. Judge McMillian offered Gore some advice: “go get a job with Ed Dowd, Jr.,” who, was the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District. It was a monumental decision, as Gore remained with Dowd, through a couple of law firms, and ended up a partner at Mr. Dowd’s current firm, Dowd Bennett, one of the premier law firms in the region. Gore’s return to work as a prosecutor takes him back to his roots and also the strong traditions of the office of Circuit Attorney in the City.

As indicated above, the Circuit Attorney’s office is itself part of the history of this event, in that, Judge McMillian began his legal career there after graduating top of his law school class rom St. Louis University. He had trouble finding a job, and none other than Ed Dowd, Sr., Gabe’s boss’s father, was the Circuit Attorney and offered McMillian a job. McMillian was a judge in the City of St. Louis for three years, and he was off on his amazing career.

Gore has reinforced the traditions of the office of the Circuit Attorney since taking over, in that he also hired retired Judge George Draper, III, who was a Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals Judge, and most recently the presiding judge of the Missouri Supreme Court, now retired. Draper III joins the office as chief training officer, and follows a family tradition of his own, in that his father, George Draper, II, was a colleague with Judge McMillian along with another future federal judge, Hon. Clyde Cahill, Jr.

Gore remarked, “The names of trailblazers like Judge McMillian are touchstones. They echo through time, conveying the sense of where we come from, who we are, the communities to which we belong, and our history and our place in the world.” He emphasized that he stepped away from his successful law practice to become Circuit Attorney, at the time a beleaguered office, because of his commitment to the legacy of the office. He emphasized, “As much as Black History Month is a time to honor the iconic figures whose struggles and triumphs changed our history, it is also a call to action. What actions can we take today to move society forward in the pursuit of equality and justice? For me, it is an answer to call to service.”

Gore is an incredible example of the power of that call, and the strength of character it takes to answer it. His life has been one of service to others, and now, in just six short months, he has rekindled relationships with the Mayor’s office, the City Police Department, and community groups who needed some leadership to correct the issues the City is facing with crime and distrust of law enforcement and the legal system. He credits the office’s recent successes with the incredible response he has received from others who have “answered the call to serve.” For lawyers in his office, and in general, he concludes his remarks with this charge:

“Our work is demanding, is complex, and is unceasing. But working together, we can build a safer, more just society for everyone. Working together, we can make history. In conclusion, Black History Month is a time to recognize the accomplishments that have brought us to the present moment, to acknowledge the challenges that remain, and to build a more equitable future.”

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