New Supreme Court Judge Puts Child Support Case Behind Him

Article excerpt

A few days after Ronnie L. White was nominated as a finalist for the Missouri Supreme Court, an old struggle resurfaced in his life.

He opened his mail on Oct. 6 and learned that he had won a drawn-out battle over child support. The state had sought $11,625 in back support for his oldest son, an amount White said he never owed. In the end, the state decided White owed no money - and had actually overpaid by $75.

How White has dealt with his responsibility for an out-of-wedlock son born 22 years ago gives insights intot the man who will soon join the Supreme Court. Gov. Mel Carnahan appointed White on Monday to replace the late Judge Elwood Thomas.

White, 42, is a judge on the Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis. He talked about the case last week after the Post-Dispatch received a tip that he owed child support. White made available some of the legal documents that track the case. The St. Louis Circuit Court and the state Division of Child Support Enforcement said their files are closed.

White said he and his family "did everything we could" for his son, Sir Ron Primus.

The governor, who reviewed the case as part of a background check by the Missouri Highway Patrol, "couldn't find any reason at all to believe he did not meet his obligations," said spokesman Chris Sifford.

Sir Ron (pronounced SirRON) Primus could not be reached despite several telephone calls and trips to the home in north St. Louis that he shares with his mother, sister, aunt and others.

His mother, Daphne Primus, said in a telephone interview that White had helped Sir Ron Primus when he was young but "just froze my son out" when legal wrangling began in 1986. Her son became "mad at the whole world," she said. "Ronnie disturbed him by showing him a life of luxury and then taking it away."

Despite the state's recent decision, Daphne Primus believes she deserves more money. White "says he doesn't owe anything because he paid what the state told him to pay and that's that," Primus said. "But he didn't pay me. I'm not out to hurt Ronnie. I just want to see if I can get me some money."

White denies harming his son when they lost contact. He said the relationship had soured because his son resisted White's rules.

White said Daphne Primus, who has raised three children on welfare, views her connection to him as "winning the lottery. She thinks because I had a child with her 22 years ago, I should pay her the rest of my life. It's over." No Frills At Home

Though they grew up only two doors apart on Labadie, their households apparently were drastically different. While Daphne Primus' mother was on welfare, White said, both his parents worked.

"My father didn't really believe in the welfare system," White said. "He always thought black people should get off their butts and get a job." His father was a postal worker, starting as a mail sorter and moving up to station manager at the old post office on Olive Boulevard. His mother had cleaning jobs, off and on.

White said his father used to start the day standing at the foot of the stairs, calling his three boys: "OK, where are you going today? You're either going to school or work." As adults, he and his brothers joked when one missed work, saying, "I'm calling Daddy."

White is the eldest, born in 1953. By age 10, he was bused to grade school in south St. Louis, where, White said, "the kids would throw milk and food at our buses and taunt us and tell us to go back to north St. Louis. It made me more determined to stay in school."

His family had the basics but no frills. At 14, White sold newspapers, earning a half penny for each. At 16, he was a janitor at a White Castle restaurant.

He caught four buses to get to the restaurant at Vandeventer and Chouteau. When he had saved $250, he bought a 1964 Rambler.

Daphne Primus had one child when she became pregnant again. …