Spirit of Justice Award Winners 2012

The 2012 Spirit of Justice Awards were presented on October 5, 2012, at the St. Louis Bar Foundation’s 5th Annual Golden Gala at the Chase Park Plaza’s Starlight Ballroom.

Our 2012 honorees are:

ArchCity Defenders

Thomas Harvey, John McAnnar and Michael-John Voss

Spirit of Justice Winner - ArchCity Defenders

When law school is completed, most grads turn their attention to gainful employment. In the case of Michael-John Voss, Thomas Harvey, and John McAnnar their minds fixed on employment and helping others with their newly-earned law degrees.

During law school, working at the clinics at SLU, they had identified the need to help those citizens who were often marginalized in the justice system – sometimes in limbo between the criminal and civil courts. In this situation, there is seldom someone who can help them navigate and advocate for them.

And, so, the ArchCity Defenders was established. They work to break the cycle of “revolving door justice” throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area. And, they do this at no charge to clients and on top of their “day” jobs.

“Most of our clients are people not eligible for legal, social or other services of any organizations and unable to afford private counsel. Our clients represent the people who commonly fall through the cracks,” says Michael-John Voss.

While, in theory, everyone has the same legal rights, in practice the assistance of attorneys is required to ensure those rights are observed, protected, and administered impartially.

They recognized a serious legal need while still in law school and then did something about it.



Todd Epsten (Deceased)

Spirit of Justice Winner - Todd Epsten

Though Todd Epsten was a native of Kansas City, he fell in love almost immediately with St. Louis after moving here in 1988. “We moved to the Central West End in September of 1988 and we were hooked,” said Sue McCollum, his wife.

Todd has been characterized as an effective, passionate, hands-on advocate for St. Louis. He served as chairman of Forest Park Forever, the organization that has brought new life to the park that is larger than New York’s Central Park, but had fallen into much disrepair and neglect. He appreciated its historical and recreational resources, as well as museums and other attractions. Probably, most important, he recognized its potential. A fund raising campaign of his design launched the initial effort to make needed improvements and bring the park back to its once resplendent condition.

He was also vice chairman of the Regional Business Council, chairman emeritus of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, one of his favorite organizations which he served in many capacities. He was trustee of the St. Louis Science Center, the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, and the St. Louis Art Museum. He had served as a St. Louis Airport Commissioner and was a former president of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners.
Epsten was the Chairman of Major Brands, Inc., a family business, whose expansion to eastern Missouri brought him to St. Louis in the first place.

At age 52, Todd Epsten died of cancer and left St. Louis with a legacy of philanthropy, service, and a sincere love for his family, his work and his community. We recognize him tonight as a shining example how one person can make a difference for others in their community when they act upon their convictions.



Frank Finnegan

Spirit of Justice Winner - Frank Finnegan

For too many people in our society, hunger is a problem. And because of the St. Louis Area Foodbank headed by Frank Finnegan, many families in 26 counties in eastern Missouri won’t always go to bed hungry tonight.

What started out as a way to drive down the rate of low birthweight newborns has grown to take on hunger for all ages and a much larger geographic area. “We began in a little office in 1975 that was supplied to us by the Red Cross,” Finnegan explained. But, today, their newer facility in Earth City allows them to store dry goods and foodstuff that require refrigeration. In 2011 they distributed more than 25 million pounds of food – from a variety of sources – to those who need help putting food on the table.

Ironically, as they increased the amount of food they bring in from manufacturers and retailers who make donations to the Foodbank, and added workers, volunteers and trucks to augment their capacity, the recession – with job losses and reduced incomes – has created a whole new class of need.

Under Frank’s leadership and energy, the St. Louis Foodbank has continued to meet those needs. Harnessing their desire to reach more people and do more for anyone who hungers, they are now looking new, innovative ways of reaching others – such as school children and “food deserts” (those neighborhoods where grocery stores just don’t exist) and more.

It takes someone who cares and doesn’t get discouraged easily when new challenges arise; someone who knows that hard work, creativity and by enlisting help where he can get it, will ensure that fewer Missourians are hungry tonight.



Frankie Muse Freeman

Spirit of Justice Winner - Frankie Muse Freeman

She was born in Danville, Virginia on November 24, 1916. It was a time when a woman wanting to go to law school had an uphill battle, much less a woman of color. But, Frankie Freeman was admitted to law school and soon became a lawyer. Because her husband Shelby was from St. Louis, they moved here in 1949 and she opened her solo law practice soon thereafter. She began her practice with pro bono, divorce and criminal cases, eventually adding civil rights to her caseload. In time she became legal counsel to the NAACP legal team that filed suit against the St. Louis Board of Education in 1949. In 1954, she was the lead attorney for the landmark NAACP case Davis et al. v. the St. Louis Land Clearance and Housing Authorities.

Frankie Freeman knows the law, but just as important, she knows how to think for herself and to identify right from wrong. She can spot injustice before it turns the corner.

In March 1964, she was nominated by President Lyndon Johnson as a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. By September, the Senate approved her nomination and she was officially appointed as the first black woman on the Commission. She was subsequently reappointed by presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and held the position until July 1979.

She was also appointed as Inspector General for the Community Services Administration during the Carter administration.

When Freeman returned to St. Louis to practice law in 1982 she also joined 15 other former high federal officials who formed a bipartisan Citizens Commission on Civil Rights.

She recently “retired” from private practice law with Montgomery Hollie & Associates, but remains active in many organizations and causes, her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, and her church, Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. She has served and continues to serve on numerous boards and has received honorary degrees, awards and accolades too numerous to mention here. In 2003 she published her memoir, A Song of Faith and Hope.

Today, Ms. Freeman continues to work for equality and tells those who will listen that a good starting point for all mankind to get along and be equal is to “get to know each other.” Sound advice.



Eric Greitens

Spirit of Justice Winner - Eric Greitens

Eric Greitens grew up in St. Louis, attended Duke University and then Oxford University where he earned his Master’s and a Ph.D. in International Humanitarian Organizations. He then enlisted in the military and served 10 years with the Navy SEALs.

When Eric returned home from four tours of service in Iraq as a Navy SEAL, he took time to visit with wounded Marines at Bethesda Naval Hospital. What he noticed without exception was that each Marine expressed a desire to continue serving his country in some way, even he could no longer do so in the military. Many had lost limbs or suffered other injuries that affected their ability to “walk” into a civilian job.

Inspired, Eric used his own combat pay and two friends pitched in their military disability checks to found The Mission Continues.

The Mission Continues, headquartered just south of downtown St. Louis, does not offer charity. Instead it challenges returning veterans to utilize their tremendous skills and leadership to continue serving their country at home – often in a way that they couldn’t achieve on their own. As a The Mission Continues “fellow,” they find renewed strength and purpose while building stronger communities.

The organization awards its community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans, empowering them to transform their own lives by serving others and impacting their communities. Each fellow works to achieve one of three outcomes at the conclusion of the fellowship: full-time employment, pursuit of higher education, or a permanent role of service.

At the end of their fellowship, the Fellow leads a service project in his/her community, bringing veterans and civilians together in days of service. The organization has been successful in helping veterans realize their desire to continue to serve, to contribute to their community and nation, and to have real purpose by continuing to realize their potential and worth as an American.



Judicial Learning Center

Spirit of Justice Winner - Judicial Learning Center

Current Chief Judge Catherine D. Perry of the Eastern District of Missouri says that the Judicial Learning Center is a wonderful and needed addition to the Thomas F. Eagleton Federal Courthouse, but it was not easy to achieve. Originally the brainchild of a former Chief Judge, Edward Louis Fillippine, he conceived the idea when plans for the new courthouse were being developed.

It was only a seedling of an idea back then. But, with nourishment from subsequent judges and local lawyers, the idea began to take hold until it seemed it could become a reality. But a few barriers remained. Since courts cannot solicit money, a not-for-profit organization, The Judicial Learning Center Inc. was formed and run by local lawyers, including the St. Louis Bar Foundation. They raised the funds needed and then gifted it to the court. As Judge Perry says, “The Learning Center is a gift to the people of St. Louis from the lawyers of St. Louis.”

Today, with reduced emphasis on civics, in many of our schools, one of the few places remaining where children and adults alike can learn about this third branch of government, the courts, can be found at the Judicial Learning Center. And this “school” makes it fun for all to learn! The Center has unique, innovative exhibits and displays that engage students to learn about many facets of the law and our system of justice.

Of course, school districts today are also running on bare bone budgets which means field trips to places as beneficial as the Judicial Learning Center often have to be scrapped. With concern for the kids, the Judicial Learning Center Inc., which funded the Center in the first place, now also provides grants and scholarships to help schools pay for the buses and other means needed to visit. The verdict is clear: better informed students and adults. Judge Perry reminds everyone that the Center is open to the public, of all ages.



BJC HealthCare

Spirit of Justice Winner - BJC HealthCare by Steven Lipstein, President

With over 28,000 employees, BJC HealthCare is the largest private employer in the State of Missouri. And many would think they help us out enough right there. But at BJC HealthCare, that is just the beginning.

Steven Lipstein, president and CEO of BJC HealthCare since 1999, says that because they are a not-for-profit organization, they retain any positive operating margin for community benefit, instead of distributing those earnings to individuals for individual benefit. This allows them to build new hospitals where they are needed, create health education programs for their teaching hospitals and the public, provide expanded local services and care for the uninsured and poor, and invest in biomedical research that creates new information to advance the frontiers of medicine. But there’s more.

Their service to the community starts at the top. BJC’s Board of Directors has six committees. One is the Community Benefit Committee, which is made up of board members and individuals from the community. “They are very committed to St. Louis, especially those disadvantaged because of location or other reasons,” said Lipstein.

“BJC is committed to making a positive change in their lives,” Lipstein says. So the organization takes the lead in being a good neighbor through neighborhood development and neighborhood security programs. BJC employees also have a history of frequently and enthusiastically getting involved where they work and where they live in order to make a difference. Lipstein says that “all of us at BJC HealthCare live in this community and want the best for it.” Often they band together to form BJC Teams. Recently in Columbia, Missouri, there were five cycling teams in the annual MS Bike Ride. Many others volunteer for all kinds of charities and community programs. They are not only committed to our patients and their families, but their neighbors as well.

He sees poverty as one of the greatest challenges facing the country and the St. Louis area. “If we can work to lift people out of poverty, it solves our healthcare cost challenges, it solves some of our crime challenges, it solves some of our unemployment challenges. And, so BJC wants to work with the community – we can’t solve them on our own, but we can work to help everybody get to a better and healthier life.”