Steve Koslovsky recalled the lessons he learned in a foreign land as a high school student.

Patricia Hageman talked about the pain of losing a father.

Michael Burton explained that his wife's community service helped guide him into volunteer work.

They were three of"> 20 applicants for an opening on the Eastern District bench of the Missouri Court of Appeals, and on Wednesday and Thursday in a third-floor downtown St. Louis courtroom, they answered questions about the law and about themselves before a panel that will help determine the next Missouri state appeals judge.

The open interviews were the first for one of Missouri's appellate courts, part of a transparency effort started by Missouri Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr. in response to criticism that the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan was veiled in too much secrecy.

The travesty was that Mr. Price and the court opened up the process and hardly anyone noticed.

Members of the general public would have found in the interviews an engaged judicial commission of lawyers and lay people asking probing questions of attorneys with varying backgrounds and experience. Of the 20 applicants being considered for next appeals court judge, some already are trial judges, others are appellate attorneys. Some work for the state or the city; some are in private practice. They spoke of personal experiences that affect their worldview. They effused about their passion for the law.

Missouri's court plan has been the model for many other states, but it has been under constant criticism by a narrow group of corporate interests seeking to inject politics into the judicial system. Under the plan, an appellate judicial commission consisting of the chief justice, lawyers elected by the Missouri Bar and lay people appointed by the governor whittles down applicants to a panel of three.

That panel is forwarded to the governor, who then chooses the next judge. The plan seeks to minimize the effect of politics and focus on merit. While imperfect, the Missouri Plan does a better job of maintaining the independence and integrity of the judicial branch than any other system available.

That's not to say that any plan is free from politics. Each of the candidates who appeared in public this week also met individually with members of the appellate commission. Friends and colleagues wrote letters in support of their favored candidates. All of this information, together with the now-public interviews, will help the panel make their decision.

Gov. Jay Nixon probably will choose a Democrat for the opening, just as former Gov. Matt Blunt chose Republicans when he had openings on the court.

The key, though, is that the governor chooses from a panel of three potential jurists who have been vetted by peer professionals and who have the proper experience and legal knowledge to fulfill the important role of appeals judge.

Mr. Price, the chief justice, correctly opened up the process, making it more accountable. It also humanizes the candidates and the judiciary for the general public.

Our hope is that Missourians take advantage of the new level of openness in judicial selection. It will reinforce a faith in Missouri courts that rich or poor, big or small, black or white, Missourians get a fair shake when they stand before independent judges who put the law first.