As Fischer begins term as high court's chief justice, he is the lone dissenter on first opinion issued

By John Breslin | Jul 19, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY — Judge Zel M. Fischer this month began his two-year term as chief justice on the Missouri Supreme Court.

Fischer, from Watson, the most northwestern city in Missouri, succeeds Judge Patricia Breckenridge, who remains on the court.

First appointed to the court in 2008 by then-Gov. Matt Blunt, Fischer is known for a strict interpretation of the Missouri Constitution. He was the lone dissenter in the first opinion issued since beginning his term in a case involving juvenile sentencing.

Fischer, who is married to Julie and is a father of four, was educated in the Rock Port public schools. He received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and political science from William Jewell College in Liberty.

Missouri Supreme Court

He gained his law degree with distinction in 1988 from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Fischer then clerked for Missouri Supreme Court Judge Andrew Jackson Higgins.

Fischer worked in private practice in northwest Missouri from 1989 to 2006, the year he was elected associate circuit judge in Atchison County.

In October 2008, he was appointed to the Supreme Court. He led an effort for trial judges throughout the state to have advanced education and training to preside over cases involving complex science or technology issues, according to a press release issued by the court.

On his appointment to the court, Blunt said, "I believe he will benefit the Supreme Court by taking it in a direction grounded on constitutional principle and less attached to personal policy preferences."

St. Louis Record asked for a comment from Gov. Eric Greiten, but his office did not respond. A message left with the Missouri Supreme Court was not returned.

The new chief justice was the only dissenting voice in the first opinion issued by the Supreme Court since he took over the role. The case involved the thorny issue of sentencing juveniles and how to interpret U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Fischer argued that the sentence of life without the possibility of parole for 50 years handed down to a 16-year-old triple murderer did not violate the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the sentencing of juveniles.

Jason Carr was convicted in 1983 of murdering is brother, stepsister and stepmother, and received the harshest possible sentence that could be given at the time.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled juveniles cannot receive mandatory sentences of life without parole without their age being considered. It applies retroactively.

Fischer, in his dissenting opinion, said it does not apply in this case because Carr did not get sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He will become eligible for parole when he is 66, Fischer added.

Five other judges on the court disagreed, arguing that the sentence was the maximum mandatory at the time in 1984 and that the special circumstances of his youth were not taken into account. Therefore, the U.S. Supreme Court findings with regard to juvenile apply.

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