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The First Fifty Years

(Condensed from articles which appeared in 1984 “News and Announcements”)

The Lawyers Association had its beginnings in the rough and tumble days of the 1930’s. The Association was formed with 189 lawyers on December 18, 1935, at the Hotel Kansas Citian (nee K.C.A.C.; later Hotel Continental). At the first meeting Henry A. Bundschu was elected President; John B. Gage, Vice-President; Edgar Shook, Treasurer; and Frank H. Terrell, Secretary.

Although the formation of the Association represented a break from the Kansas City Bar Association, Mr. Bundschu stated in his acceptance speech that the Association was not antagonistic to the KCBA. But differences did exist.

According to the newspapers of the time, many lawyers had become dissatisfied with KCBA in the previous year. The issue which brought things to a head was how to handle the disciplining of attorneys. The Supreme Court of Missouri had recently set up a new system of supervision which provided for a state disciplinary committee. The Court appointed other committees in each judicial circuit.

As a result of the Court’s action, a movement was launched in the KCBA which sought a return to the old system under which control over ethical standards would be left to local bar associations.

There was talk of “cleaning one’s dirty laundry behind closed doors.” The movement eventually died out, but when the KCBA announced it would only “cooperate” with the Supreme Court, there was a strong feeling a more definite statement of support should have been made.

The Lawyers Association evidenced its support for the Missouri high court in its first meeting and in its first constitution. The constitution stated the Association was formed to promote the welfare of the public in the bar; to advance the science of jurisprudence; to support the administration of justice; and to support the Supreme Court.

The Lawyers Association came about because some lawyers wanted a bar group that would take stands on legal and governmental issues. Before the Association was founded, lawyers, as an organization, were unable to take a position on any question which might, directly or indirectly, involve politics or local government. Any action by lawyers as a group concerned in such areas was considered too dangerous as it might cause dissension. Lawyers as a group confined themselves to social meetings and an occasional mild excursion into legal scholarship before the Association was founded. Once the Association was formed though, it became active in several projects.

Shortly after the organization of the Association, the Missouri Supreme Court Plan of Advisory Committees on Discipline ran into trouble. The funds available for the plan were insufficient to pay expenses. The Association believed that the plan was too desirable to be allowed to fail. A Committee on Supreme Court Rules was formed and within a few weeks raised $4,000 and contributed it to the expense of carrying on the work throughout the state.

The Committee on Supreme Court Rules also worked with the State Bar Committee to oppose and eventually defeat a bill that would have repealed existing statutes regarding disbarment of attorneys and enacted new laws which would have made it impossible to discipline attorneys.

The Association also made its weight felt in local government. In 1937 it was charged that anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 votes had been and could be again stolen in City elections. Many believed these charges were merely the kind of political propaganda used by the “out” party against the “in” party. Nevertheless, the Association appointed a committee made up of both Republican and Democrats to investigate the claims. After a large amount of work, the committee filed a report substantially verifying the charges.

Not to stop there, the committee worked on legislation which resulted in the enactment of a bill for permanent registration of voters. The committee analyzed bills offered, pointed out objectionable features, suggested amendments, prepared analyses of each bill for legislative members and made appearances before the legislature.

The work the Lawyers Association put into the disciplining of attorneys and voter registration resulted in an American Bar Association Service Award. The Lawyers Association received the award in 1937 as one of the three honorable mentions in the “Morris B. Mitchell” competition. The prize, awarded by the Bar Association Activities Committee of the ABA, went to the local bar association performing activities “most beneficial to the bar in the public”.

In 1939, much talk was caused by jury venire with a  top-heavy proportion of county and city employees.  The Executive Committee of the Association decided that, with no evidence to go upon except the laws of chance, it was improbable that anything could be done. The President, Frank Tyler, had a committee formed to look into the matter nonetheless. So vigorously and tactfully did the committee act that they cleared up the situation with the wholehearted cooperation of the circuit bench.

In its early years the Association also sponsored radio programs on legal issues; fought for a good anti-loan shark bill and investigated the illegal sale of jury summons. The Association also encouraged members to tender their services to the Board of Election Commissioners to assist in assuring honest elections in Kansas City.

The Constitution provided junior membership for those who had practiced less than five years. Judge Bundschu lost no time in setting up a Junior Section and turning them loose. The young lawyers had their own luncheons. A crisis occurred when it was no longer possible to secure a private meeting place with luncheon served for less than fifty cents. At an early meeting of the whole Association, the juniors explained to their elders the newly adopted Declaratory Judgment Act. The juniors also conducted weekly radio programs and were represented on the committees of the Association.

It was felt that a publication was needed, not a learned journal, but a medium of information as to the activities. Hence, the unpretentious title, News and Announcements.

An early picnic tradition was established. The annual event was held so successfully at Red Bridge Farm that some thought it could not be held anywhere else. The elders such as Senator Cooper and General Barker would sit under a canopy sipping long, tall glasses while the young and quasi-young “bobbed” for beer cans in an iced-down stock tank and played softball.

Another tradition, early established, was arranging for a speaker of national reputation to address a dinner meeting of the Association at least once a year. Early speakers of this event were Donald Richberg, Senator James A. Reed and Newton D. Baker.

Others will recall other events and other scenes, immediate and remote. The gold anniversary should present a pleasurable opportunity to look back over the last 50 years and then look forward to the next 50.

James A. Moore
Roy A. Crooks
John R.T. Mitchell
Robert M. Kroenert
(originally published in 1985)



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