July 2016

In Memoriam: Judge Scott O. Wright

The Honorable Scott O. Wright, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Missouri, died on July 11, 2016, at the age of 93. He received his commission on September 26, 1979, served as Chief Judge from 1985 to 1990, and assumed senior status on October 5, 1991.
Judge Wright was born in 1923, in a farmhouse in rural Nebraska. When his family lost their ranch during the Depression, they moved to a farm in Missouri. When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Wright decided he would join the service after completing his second year at Central Methodist College in Fayette, Missouri. He entered training as a dive bomber in the Navy V-5 program in 1942 and then served as an aviator for the Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946, patrolling Japanese submarines in the South Pacific.
After his military service, he graduated with his law degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1950 and practiced law in Columbia for 29 years. He was City Attorney from 1951 to 1953 and Boone County Prosecuting Attorney from 1954 to 1958. He also worked in private practice at the Howard F. Major Law Firm from 1950 to 1951, Clark & Becker from 1952 to 1954, and Brown, Wright, Willbrand & Simon from 1959 until his appointment to the federal bench in 1979.
Judge Wright was regarded as unconventional and innovative, a plain-speaking and sometimes controversial figure. His decision blocking state laws restricting abortion rights was heard by the Supreme Court in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, and his certification of the Hyatt Regency Hotel disaster case as a mandatory federal class action was considered creative. He broke with tradition in allowing arbitration of cases, oral questions asked by jurors, and electronic recording testimony.
Judge Wright was honored with the prestigious Whittaker Award by the Lawyers Association of Kansas City in 2006 and the Legacy Award by the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association in 2008. Judge Wright is survived by his wife, brother, two stepchildren, six grandchildren, and five greatgrandchildren. A memorial service is planned for August 12 at the Charles Evans Whittaker Courthouse in Kansas City.