ST. LOUIS – Evelyn Baker, Missouri’s first black female circuit court judge, will retire at the end of the month after 25 years on the bench. Baker’s tenure in St. Louis Circuit Court has been marked with several clashes with prosecutors. Baker said she was frustrated with a justice system that puts more emphasis on incarceration than rehabilitation. “There are more people in the Department of Corrections with mental problems than we have in state mental hospitals,” Baker said. “There are alternatives to incarceration that are much cheaper.”
Baker has long drawn the ire of prosecutors. In 1989, former Circuit Attorney George Peach said he would seek her disqualification in his cases after Baker threw out nine felony convictions from juries after she ruled there was lack of evidence.
Three years ago, Baker said current Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce told her prosecutors to ask for a change of judge in nearly every criminal case assigned to her because of lenient sentences. Joyce told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she would ask for a change of judge whenever it was in the best interest of justice, victims and the community.
Baker earned her law degree from St. Louis University, worked with the National Labor Relations Board, served as an assistant circuit attorney in St. Louis and prosecuted cases in St. Louis County and the U.S. attorney’s office. In 1983, Gov. Christopher “Kit” Bond appointed her circuit court judge.