Partial Transcript: Today is December 20, 2013.
Segment Synopsis: Judge Stevens discusses his childhood and educational background.
Keywords: African American men; Basketball; Fathers; HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities); High school; Immigrants; Law; Law schools; Lawyers; Manners; Maryland; Morehouse College; Mothers; Naturalization; Parents; Politeness; Values; Washington, D.C.; Young people; Youth
Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African American families; African American law students; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Social conditions.; Childhood; Law--Study and teaching
Partial Transcript: And where did you end up going to law school?
Segment Synopsis: Judge Stevens discusses his time at law school.
Keywords: Academic performance; Campus; Class rankings; Competition; Corporate law; Dedication; Development; George Washington University; Internships; Job placement; Law schools; Legal clerks; Moving; Prestige; Socialization; Studying; University of Louisville
Subjects: African American college students.; African American law students; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Employment.; Law--Study and teaching
Partial Transcript: So what type of law did you practice?
Segment Synopsis: Judge Stevens discusses his time with the Louisville Bar Association and his employment after law school.
Keywords: Advice; Committees; Connections; Family court; Help; Job offers; Job placement; Judgeship; Law firms; Law practice; Legal assistance; Legal offices; Louisville (Ky.); Louisville Bar Association; Networking; Private practice
Subjects: African American lawyers; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Employment.; Practice of law--Kentucky
Partial Transcript: That's really interesting.
Segment Synopsis: Judge Stevens discusses his campaign process.
Keywords: Advertisements; Campaigns; Connections; Experience; Judge William McAnulty; Judicial system; Mentoring; President Barack Obama; Role models; Voters
Subjects: African American judges; African Americans--Politics and government.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Judges--Election; Judges--Selection and appointment--United States.; Voting.
Partial Transcript: Um, you've talked a little bit about when you first moved here you hung out at the LBA.
Segment Synopsis: Judge Stevens discusses his involvement in the legal community and some of his most memorable moments from his time on the bench.
Keywords: Child neglect; Community; Community involvement; Community issues; Community members; Confidence; Events; Family law; Fortunate; Incarceration; Jury trials; Legal cases; Legal issues; Legal partners; Louisville (Ky.); Media; Opinions; Participation; Perspectives; Public speaking; Representation; Respect; Sentencing; Social climate; Social media; Socialization; Visibility; Welcoming; Youths
Subjects: African American judges; African American leadership; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; African Americans--Societies, etc.; Practice of law--Kentucky; United States--Trials, litigation, etc.
Partial Transcript: I'm gonna ask a potentially difficult question.
Segment Synopsis: Judge Stevens discusses his involvement in the local community and his work with young African American men.
Keywords: African American men; Community involvement; Community issues; Duty; Expanded Horizons Project; Expectations; Goals; Influences; Mentoring; Public opinion; Race; Role model; Roles; Social media
Subjects: African American leadership; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Social conditions.
Partial Transcript: Um, does it surprise you to hear that the number of African Americans in the legal field has remained relatively unchanged?
Segment Synopsis: Judge Stevens discusses the number of African Americans involved in the field of law. The interview is concluded.
Keywords: Class size; College admissions; Community; Exposure; Help; Law school; Numbers; Race; Representation; Retention; Statistics; Student retention; Youths
Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African American judges; African American law students; African American lawyers; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Social conditions.; Law--Study and teaching
ARD: Today is December 20th, 2013. My name is Constance Ard and I am herewith Judge Olu Stevens. This is an interview with the Legacy of African American Judges in Kentucky Project. We are in the Jefferson County Circuit Court office of Judge Stevens in Louisville, Kentucky. Thank you, Judge Stevens, for taking time to meet with us.
STEVENS: Well, thank you. Appreciate it.
ARD: We're going to start off with easy stuff. When and where were you born?
STEVENS: Uh, I was born on August 3rd, 1970 in Washington, DC.
ARD: And, uh, were you raised there or--
STEVENS: --I was raised in, uh, suburban Maryland mostly. We lived in DC forjust a little while. Moved to, uh, Maryland, Montgomery County, Maryland, and, uh, lived in Silver Spring and Potomac, Maryland, and that's primarily--where I grew up, in Potomac, Maryland.
ARD: And what was that community like for you?
STEVENS: Uh, a very nice community. Uh, it was a very nice place to grow up.It was a middle-to-upper-class, uh, neighborhood and, uh, and it was, uh, it was 00:01:00a nice, nice childhood, I would say, by most standards, yeah.
ARD: Wonderful. Well, tell me a little bit about your parents.
STEVENS: My parents are both, uh, immigrants. They are, uh, naturalizedcitizens. They came here in, uh, the sixties, the early sixties. My mother is from West Africa; she's from Sierra Leone. My father is from Tortola, British Virgin Islands. They met here in the sixties in New York. They went to, uh, Long Island University. That's where they met. And, uh, and, uh, they married and, uh, and had two--and had sons, twins, uh, myself and my brother. And we--and Dad is, uh, a surgeon in the DC area. And, uh, Mom is, uh, was a social worker and then she went to law school in 1980. And she had two kids that were running around helping her with her study groups and guessing on hypothetical 00:02:00questions and the like, and, uh, I guess they took a liking to the law, so we both ended up being lawyers. And, uh, you know, the rest is history. So Dad was away a lot. We never saw him. So we decided against, uh, medicine. (laughs)
ARD: Least you got to be home.
ARD: Uh, so tell me some of the values that your parents instilled in you as a child.
STEVENS: Well, one of the things I always talk about is, uh, my mother taughtme very early on that I needed to, uh, greet people when I come in a room. I can't come into a room without greeting people. Uh, and I noticed that people do that. And it took me--it takes me still a while to get used to that. Because, uh, I attribute something, uh, that's not favorable to them by virtue of them coming into the room and not saying anything. Uh, it was very important to her that I greet people, uh, when I entered a room. And she told me even the people I don't like I have to greet. So, uh, I greet everybody whenever I can. 00:03:00I greet them when they come in the courtroom. Uh, like to greet them by name and, and, uh, think it just makes people feel more comfortable about, uh, what they're getting ready to do. Particularly the lawyers. Uh, if, uh, they've got a tough argument or something. Uh, and, and, and perhaps it puts them in a better, better mindset. So I'm always, uh, careful about getting names and, and greeting people by their names and when I enter--I enter the appearances for the lawyers, uh, I'll generally, unless I don't know anyone, I let them enter their appearances, but if I know who you are, uh, I'm going to enter your appearance on the record for you, and say good morning to you, uh, that's just customary.
ARD: Hmm. That's a very interesting value.
STEVENS: My, my, my mother, uh, she, she's given me a number of things that Iremember. But that's, that's, uh, that's--I talk about that one all the time. That and the big signature. Uh, which people say, "Well, gosh, you, you got a--you got a unique signature." Uh, because it's large, uh, and it can't, uh, 00:04:00it's, it's hard to duplicate. Uh, and I won't get into what, uh, the hard to duplicate portion. But the large portion, uh, the basis is, uh, that my mother, she would look at my handwriting. And, and she truly believes to this day that small handwriting is an indication of, of lack of confidence. And, uh, she always wanted me to be confident, so she--when I was writing small, she would tell me to write bigger, fill up the lines. And so my secretaries--uh, started giving me a lot of lines when she first started with me. A bunch of lines for a signature. And I'd say, "Well, don't give them to me because I'm going to fill them up no matter what. So you just need to give me a normal signature line, let me fill it up. Let me write over the letters." And, uh, that's what I do, uh, to this day. And I use a--I use a Sharpie pen to do it so everybody knows that that's my signature. Uh, but that goes back to my mother and, and, and what she believed about confidence, and I believe it too, I've talked to some of 00:05:00the defendants about when they come in and, uh, they've given me something that they've written. I'll talk to them about their, their confidence level. Depending on how small that handwriting is. Uh, and how they should go about their business with more, more confidence, mm.
ARD: Um-hm. Very interesting, uh, attended high school in Maryland?
STEVENS: I did, Winston Churchill High School, Potomac, Maryland.
ARD: And what type of student were you there?
STEVENS: Uh, you know, average. I think average student, honestly. Uh, Iplayed a lot of basketball. Like every other kid I thought I was going to be a professional basketball player. And, uh, when I was growing up from the time I was about seven or eight to the time I was, uh, almost eighteen. Played a great deal of basketball, went to a number of camps. Uh, you know, pretty good camps, some, some of the top camps. And played against some of the top kids. But, uh, was never, you know, quite at that level. But, uh, but took it very seriously, dedicated a lot of time to it. And, uh, more time, uh, than I did my academics when I was a kid. And, uh, as a result I was just, you know, in high school an 00:06:00average--I would say an average student.
ARD: And what about college? Where did you go?
STEVENS: Uh, first attended Duquesne University for a year with my brother, uh,and then he stayed there and I decided that I needed to do something else, and, uh, something took me to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. And, uh, it's the best decision I've ever made in my life. And, uh, it changed my life, uh, dramatically. It made me, uh, it made me, uh, first of all take pride in, in, in, in some of the things I was doing academically that perhaps I wasn't, uh, I didn't pay as much attention to as I should have prior to the time I went to Morehouse College. But there was something about that Morehouse gave me, uh, in terms of my, my self-worth and my understanding of my heritage and my understanding of, of the importance of, uh, of education and, and, and not to take it for granted. Uh, all those things I learned at Morehouse College, uh, 00:07:00so I'm indebted to Morehouse College, uh, it's given me, uh, not to mention I met my wife, uh, she went to Spelman College and, and she graduated, we both graduated 1992. And, uh, got married shortly after that. So, uh, wasn't for Morehouse College, uh, I certainly wouldn't be here right now, uh, that's for sure. And, uh, very proud of my school. My son is there now. He's a freshman. And, uh, he's just gotten his report card. He's gotten straight As. So I'm very proud right now, uh, it's, uh, I could go on and on about Morehouse College but I won't. Unless you ask me.
ARD: Well, I'm going to ask you what type of student you were there. Obviouslyit, it really changed your focus to an academic focus. Uh, were there some professors, uh, that really kind of encouraged you or--
STEVENS: --definitely. Uh, there were professors that encouraged me. Therewere, uh, classmates, uh, that I had to keep up with. Uh, it, it, it, it goes back to, uh, uh, or at least it's the basis for some of the things that I tell, 00:08:00uh, the defendants, the young defendants that I deal with in court. That, uh, surrounding yourself with positive people really makes a difference, uh, people who have, uh, dedicated themselves to a certain course. Uh, depending on what it is, could be good or bad. Uh, these young people are involved with, uh, criminal activity, and you surround yourself with those type of people, then you're going to go one way. And if you surround yourself with positive people, people who are trying to, uh, are, are, are career-oriented, goal-oriented, uh, then you're going to go another way. And, uh, Morehouse College is, uh, is a prime example of that. That the atmosphere there was, uh, you know, failure was not acceptable. Uh, and, and, and even being mediocre was not acceptable. Uh, that you were expected to do something great. It was just an expectation. And it was that atmosphere, uh, that, that caused me to change my mindset about, uh, my academics generally and just my outlook on life generally. So, uh, like I 00:09:00said, Morehouse College, uh, is, uh, in my mind is a unique place, uh, for anyone. And we have, you know, we have students from all walks of life. But, but particularly, uh, a young African American man, there's no educational setting, uh, on this earth like Morehouse College. As spoken like a Morehouse man. (laughs)
ARD: (laughs) Uh, so when did you decide to go to law school?
STEVENS: Uh, well, I, I, I, I say it in jest but I, I kind of--I go back towhen my mother, uh, decided, uh, in--and I said 1980. In 1977 she decided she was going to go to law school. She was a social worker and this is what she wanted to do. She wanted to become a lawyer. And I was seven years old. And, uh, so I was there kind of. I remember her--the studies. That was my early memories of her studying, with her study groups. They'd come over and we would 00:10:00talk to them and they would throw these hypotheticals. We being me and my brother. We would--we would answer these hypotheticals. And they would laugh. I guess they were laughing because we got it right. You know, uh, but they would just laugh when we would give them an answer, you know. And, uh, but it was fun. I remember, uh, her study group coming over and, and they made--they made tacos and it was taco time whenever, uh, the study group came over. And that was what we looked forward to, the tacos. But they looked forward to throwing the hypotheticals at us and then waiting for us to answer based on what we thought. And they were amused. I think they were more amused than anything else if we would get an answer correct. Uh, the look, you know, we get this seven- or eight-year-old, nine-year-old kid, whatever we were at the time, uh, getting these questions right. I think they were more amused by that than anything else. But that I think was the basis, uh, of my interest in the law. And then, uh, it was one of those things. I mean y--again at, at Morehouse it 00:11:00was what are you interested in, well, I'm kind of interested in law, well, you need to do that, and you need to do it better than everybody else, uh, if that's what you're going to do, do it, and do it as, uh, the best way you can. And, uh, so I remember, uh, kind of early on at Morehouse, uh, maybe, maybe my m--maybe my sophomore year, junior year really saying, "This is, you know, I want to go into the law, I want to--I want to be a lawyer." Uh, I think that's where--that's where it began.
ARD: And where did you end up going to law school?
STEVENS: I went to George Washington University in DC, uh, and it was--it was avery good--I, I attended the high--my--the only--I did not really have a whole lot of--there wasn't really a, a big game plan when it came to law school. I was going to go to the highest-rated law school I could possibly get into. That was my goal because everybody was saying, "Well, you need to--if you're going to go to law, the field is saturated, you need to--you need to be in a high-rated 00:12:00law school." So that was my goal. And as I--it all worked out very well because, uh, I'd gotten into Emory and, uh, my wife--my, uh, uh, engaged--we were engaged at that point but we weren't married, but, uh, we were trying to go to the same place. And, uh, we had already applied for schools separately. So we'd gotten into, uh, Emory. You know, really close to going to Emory. And then, uh, because she's much smarter than me, she got into Harvard and she got into Hopkins. And, uh, I got into George Washington. And that worked out very well with Hopkins in Baltimore and, and, uh, George Washington in DC. And so that's where we, we ended up, uh, attending school. So there wasn't a whole lot of thought about particular schools. It was the higher ranked, the better. And then it just worked out.
ARD: And what type of student were you there?
STEVENS: Uh, I would say I started off as an average student there. I hadtrouble adjusting, uh, as some people do. Uh, I, I, I, I developed a nice, uh, 00:13:00way of writing. I was good at prose. Which is not good for law school. Uh, fancy words and big words and semicolons and, and things that I don't use anymore. Uh, uh, and, and, and then just the way of thinking. I think I had difficulty adjusting, uh, to it initially. But then, uh, it was like a lightbulb went off and then I think became a very good student. And then--and toward the end I thought that I was, uh, uh, uh, you know, I was right up there with anybody, I thought. And, uh, so it was--it was a process. It wasn't, uh, I didn't get in there and take to it right away, uh, like one might think. It, uh, it took a little bit. But, uh, but eventually I learned the way and I think, uh, you know, developed some good, good, uh, some better, more concentrated study habits instead of, uh, I spent a lot of time studying, always did, but there's a difference between spending a whole lot of time and then 00:14:00spending a whole lot of good time. And I found out how to spend the good time, uh, dedicated, uh, uh, spent some good, dedicated time in, in, in study. And I think that made a difference too.
ARD: And what was the environment like at George Washington?
STEVENS: Uh, it was--it was--it was a high achiever environment. There's noquestion about it because now you've got, you know, people who are used to finishing top of their class and all that. And everybody is wanting to be number one. Plus the competitive nature of law school. I'm sure it's like that anywhere. That, uh, jobs are, are scarce and, uh, people understand that right from the get-go, uh, your future could be determined by whether or not you are in the top, you know, tenth of the class, uh, first year. So the pressure is on. Uh, so the environment was, was competitive to say the least. Uh, I didn't so much experience it, uh, uh, I didn't experience as much as I could have 00:15:00because, uh, I got married after my first semester at law school and my wife's first semester at med school when we were living in Columbia, Maryland, which is, uh, should be about an hour's drive to DC, but with traffic it's a two-hour drive plus. And, uh, she lived, and, and she went to school in Baltimore, which was roughly about a forty-five-minute drive. So what we were trying to do, what we dedicated to do is just spend as much time as we could together, given the fact that we went to law school and--went to law school and med school in these different places. And so that posed a challenge. And we tried to maximize our time together. So I didn't spend a whole lot of time on campus, I remember. Uh, but, but, uh, but I, I do remember the atmosphere of law school being, uh, I would describe it as highly, highly competitive. Mm.
ARD: Thank you. Uh, tell me something that you really remember about law school.00:16:00
STEVENS: Uh, I remember, uh, well, gosh, that's a good question. What do Iremember of law school? Uh, well, I do know that my--I knew that my path was going to be different than my--most of my, uh, my, my classmates. Uh, most of my classmates attended George Washington University to go on to corporate law and a lot of them did in New York and, and Chicago and other places. And I knew that really wasn't for me. Uh, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do yet. And, and, uh, but I did know, uh, I didn't quite want to do that. Uh, so I remember, uh, just kind of trying to, to find my way a little bit there, uh, in 00:17:00that climate that is so concentrated and so c--competitive on, on corporate issues and on corporate law and, and, and, and that type of thing, and, and try to really figure out what I want to do. Uh, the, uh, I guess the other memory is just trying to figure it out. I mean like I said I mean it was, uh, the first year was just, uh, a real learning process. I had to change my way of, of thinking and, and writing and, uh, and that, that proved to be difficult. Particularly the first, uh, the first year. And, uh, I remember just, you know, talking to my mother, who didn't--who said she didn't remember, she graduated top of her class at, at Howard University in, uh, in 1980. And, uh, but she claimed she didn't remember anything. (laughs) So I was trying to figure out law school, uh, uh, through her experience and, uh, and, uh, and, and, and just 00:18:00trying to get a feel for it, uh, uh, in all seriousness I think was, was, was, was my real memory of that, uh, trying to get a, a grip on it and, uh, and be successful.
ARD: That makes a lot of sense.
ARD: Sometimes you're focused on just doing.
STEVENS: Yes. Yes. Um-hm.
ARD: And, uh, so I can relate to that. Uh, so were there some mentors duringyour college career that kind of pointed you in a particular direction? You said you didn't want to follow the path of most of your s--your, uh, your classmates in terms of--
ARD: --following the corporate law path so--
ARD: --what were you thinking and who was kind of helping you think through that?
STEVENS: I'll tell you what. I was, uh, fortunate, my mother, uh, was friendswith, uh, an attorney by the name of Emmanuel Akpan. And he and, uh, his law partner, Dennis Baird, had me over to their office, uh, to work for them as a 00:19:00clerk right after my first year. And, uh, that changed everything for me. I mean to learn from them, uh, practically. And it was just the two of them. And I was their clerk. So they did a lot of trial work and, and, uh, I learned quite a bit. And, uh, learned how to, uh, from basic--and he's a PhD also, so Dr. Akpan is what I call him, and Dr.--from Dr. Akpan I learned how to write. I didn't have any idea. (laughs) Until he started, uh, teaching me and started sending my papers back bleeding. How to write. Uh, from Dennis Baird I learned, uh, how to speak. How to--how to--how to be an advocate in court. Uh, and he's, he's one of the best that I've seen. Uh, and to this day I think he's probably as far as a lawyer goes, uh, even, you know, even with my mother, and 00:20:00she was a great influence on me but, but probably, uh, probably the, the, the person that had the most influence on my, my career in the law is, is Dennis Baird.
ARD: So you practiced, or you were their clerk. Did you stay their clerk allthroughout law school?
STEVENS: I did. Uh, I stayed their clerk. I went, I, I, I worked for them.I'd go over there after class. I worked for them during the summers. Uh, and, uh, so I was there from my first--the summer after my first year through, uh, a year after I graduated, I was with them.
ARD: And after you graduated and, and left them, where did you go? Were you--
STEVENS: --uh, I came, uh, I was the, uh, a year after that, uh, my wifeRaymonda graduated from, uh, Johns Hopkins. And the question was where is she going to do to do her residency. And they have a matching program and what have 00:21:00you, and at Hopkins essentially she could write her ticket as to where she wanted to be for her radiology residency. And she wanted to come back home. So she wanted to do her residency at U of L. And she listed, uh, the University of Louisville as her number one choice, which essentially meant that we were going to move to Louisville, Kentucky, which I said, "Okay, okay, okay," until it actually happened. I said, "Well, we're going to move where? Where are we going to move?" Uh, she's from New Albany, so the culture shock of it was literally I was filing some papers downtown DC two days before in DC Superior Court, and two days later I was observing some court in New Albany, Indiana. (laughs) So you talk about a culture shock, that was big-time. Uh, and, uh, we were there for what, three or four years before I convinced her to move to 00:22:00Louisville, because I thought that, uh, I, I, I'd been convinced two years before that that I wanted to be a judge, but we had to move to Louisville in order to get that done. Uh, uh, I wasn't going to be a judge in--didn't want to be a judge in Indiana, wanted to be a judge in Louisville, Kentucky. So I convinced her to move in, uh, 2000, '99, 2000, right around there, uh, to Louisville. And that's--that was the purpose for which we moved from New Albany to Louisville. And then it didn't--it didn't happen for another nine years. So she was wondering when it was going to happen. (laughs) Uh, but it, it, it, it happened nine years later.
ARD: Okay. Excuse me. So what type of law did you practice? Was it criminal?Was it across the board?
STEVENS: No. Uh, I started off, uh, on my own. Uh, I sent--I remember sendinga number of applications out and getting, uh, responses, uh, not even 00:23:00interviews, just letters saying that, uh, something to the effect that, uh, we don't have a position for someone of your qualifications. I got a number of those. And, uh, so I always remember that it motivated me actually. I remember, uh, receiving those from some of the larger firms. Then later, it would have been, uh, gosh, it would have been about ten years later, when I started getting, uh, all kinds of offers to come over to large firms. And I said--somebody said, "Well, I feel sorry for you, all these large firms to choose from." I said, "Don't feel sorry for me, this is great, you don't know what I've been through." (laughs) So it was fantastic. But, uh, but when I first started I was on my own. Opened my office. I didn't know anybody in Louisville. I didn't know a single person in Kentucky because all the people that I knew were in New Albany. Uh, my wife's family. So I literally came over here and, uh, hung a shingle out and went to the bar association, the local bar association, uh, for a young lawyers meeting, and a--and a CLE [Continuing Legal Education] or something after that. And, uh, that's when I started meeting 00:24:00people and, uh, I met any number of people there very helpful to me, and, uh, told them, "I'm a brand-new lawyer and I was at your seminar last week and you taught this and I've got this client, can you help me?" And they did. Uh, they helped me a lot. I mean they would meet with the client with me, and, and, and go through the paperwork with me and, and, and, and never, never charged me anything. I mean these were people that would just out of the goodness of their heart, were trying to help a young lawyer. And, uh, they were actually giving of their time to meet with me and the client, preparing paperwork, showing me how to do it, all that, never asked me for anything. Uh, so that was a great connection to make at, uh, at the LBA [Louisville Bar Association]. And I started--that's how I started meeting people in Louisville, uh, was hanging out at the LBA all the time. I was doing all kinds of things. And, uh, you know, I just kept doing things, uh, and, and kept hanging around. And, uh, I'd get on 00:25:00this committee and that committee and, uh, and, and it kept going for a while. And then, uh, I made my way, uh, I was the young lawyers chair and I made my way onto this thing and that thing, and next thing you know, I'm on the executive committee for the entire LBA. And, uh, I got a chance early on to serve as the president of the LBA. Uh, I wish I had another shot now. I have, you know, a little bit more experience. Uh, but when I was--when I was thirty-six years old I was the president of the bar association. And that--and they say, "Well, how did that happen?" People say, "How did--how did it happen for you?" And I said, "Well, just, just kept hanging around." (laughs) And that's exactly how it happened. Uh, just kept hanging around and, uh, people ask you to do things, and next thing you know, uh, you get something, something was nice, it was a wonderful experience.
ARD: That network obviously is very important for someone who moved from out oftown to Kentucky not knowing someone.
ARD: Uh, can you tell me about something memorable from your practice during00:26:00that time, uh, that really kind of sticks with you now?
STEVENS: Uh, from, from the time I began on my own or--
ARD: --well, well, while you were a lawyer, while you were practicing.
STEVENS: Okay, sure. Uh, well, I did a lot of--and I, I should have gone--I,uh, the majority of what I did when I practiced law was family work. Uh, complete opposite of what I do now. Uh, I, I represented individuals in divorce cases, uh, custody issues, termination of parental rights, uh, domestic violence, all the family stuff. And, uh, I'd dabbled in it and, uh, people found out that I did it and it was such a small bar relatively speaking that people started referring things and next thing you know, that was primarily what I was doing, uh, was, uh, was family work. And, uh, I don't know. I mean I, I--the--what I remember, what I miss of that, uh, is doing work for a client and 00:27:00then they, they really appreciated it. Uh, they really appreciated the effort that you put in and it was something that meant something to them, it changed their life, it, it, it got their kid back or, or kept their kid with them or something, uh, that you did that they were so appreciative of that you could go another year with people that were not appreciative of what you were doing, uh, just because of that high that you get, uh, when you help somebody and, and, and, and, uh, and you really do something good and they really--they really appreciate it. Uh, so that's my memory of it. I mean that's my best memory of, of, of private practice is, is really, uh, representing people that need help and, and, and, and helping them and, and what a difference it really made in their lives.
ARD: So we're going to move into talking a little bit about your judgeship.And I want to start by, uh, uh, recalling that you said that the reason that you got your wife to move to Louisville was so that you could be a judge. And it 00:28:00had to wait nine years.
ARD: Uh, did you know you wanted to be a judge when you were in law school?How early did you know you wanted to be a judge?
STEVENS: Not really. Uh, it was one of those things that just wasn't, uh, waskind of pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff. I think every, every--my theory is that every lawyer at some point thinks about it. That's my theory. Now certain, you know, sometimes because you're, you're doing this or you're, you're, you're, you're, you're making money, uh, more money than you could as a judge, maybe that's--you just don't end up doing it. And some of the, the older lawyers who very well could have been judges have decided to, uh, stick with their careers as, as, as, uh, practitioners and they've done very well. But for me, uh, very early on I remember going to a young lawyers meeting at the LBA. And Janice Martin was the speaker and she was talking about how she became a judge and, and, and, and I'm sure, uh, you know, the significance of, uh, Judge Martin's place in history and, uh, the history of Kentucky, uh, uh, uh, judicial, uh, 00:29:00jurisprudence or I don't know what the right phrase is. But, uh, but she was talking about when she was appointed judge and the significance of that, uh, and, uh, what it meant to her. And that really made an impression on me. And I remember her asking at the end of her remarks if anyone in the room was interested in being a judge. And I don't know where my hand--why my hand went up but it did. (laughs) I said, "I don't know why I'm raising my hand but I'm raising my hand." And that's the first time I ever thought about it. And, uh, but, you know, in the nature of, uh, of bar participation and getting to know lawyers, at some point somebody says, "Well, you know what, I think--I think you'd make a very good judge." And, uh, it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy almost. I mean you, you, you, you start to see yourself in that way that you can--that you can actually do that. And, uh, for this job for instance I'd make 00:30:00it up to circuit court every once in a while. But it wasn't, uh, wasn't all the time. So, uh, there was--there was--it was a real question about what I was going to be able to do when I got to circuit court. But in, in, in a lot of circles, including the governor's office, it wasn't a question. Because they'd seen that I was capable of, of leadership in organizations and making decisions, uh, that impact people, the being fair, and, and those are the attributes that every judge needs to have. So, uh, the way I saw it was that I needed to convince people that I could do the work, any work. Because I knew I could do it, but I needed to convince people that I could. And, and, and bar activities and, and the other things, the community activities I was involved in, gave me an opportunity to show what I could do, uh, on that level. And, and, and show how it could translate to this. And, uh, so that's when, you know, when I 00:31:00started developing, uh, within the bar association. I started thinking well, you know, to me being a judge is, uh, that's, that's the highest level of the profession. And why can't I--if I can be at the highest levels of, uh, the legal, uh, of the, the practicing bar, why can't I take that next step. And, uh, I started doing things in my career that would put me in a position to be a judge. And, uh, I went from practicing on my own to doing little prosecuting, because I thought that was something that I would need one day, to say that I did some prosecuting. It was helpful to me that I was the president of the bar association. Uh, it was helpful to me when I decided to go to Stoll Keenon and Ogden. I'd been on my own for ten years. And I accepted a position as a partner there. It was a different way of doing things. And the billable hour 00:32:00was something I thought I understood until I got there. Uh, but it was--it was a valuable experience for me. And it gave me, uh, it opened doors for me that probably would not have been opened even with my bar service. So I was able to make connections, uh, there. And they were very good about it because I told them in the beginning that I want to be a judge, and I thought this could help me. And they said, "Well, we want to help you, uh, be a judge. We want you to come on with us because we think it'll be good for us if you come with us and, and, and we'll help you too." And they did. Uh, so those--all those things, every step that I took from the point in time that, uh, that meeting, uh, where Judge Martin was speaking, uh, to July 1, 2009, when I got appointed, every step that I took professionally was designed to get me to that point. And people would say, "Well, why are you volunteering so much time at CLE for the KBA [Kentucky Bar Association] or the LBA or the ABA [American Bar Association]?" 00:33:00Because I was doing a lot. And, uh, it was part of my practice, it was part of what I did, uh, uh, that was the reason. Because I thought that this was--and people do it in different ways, but I thought this was the way to distinguish myself from other people. And, uh, and it worked out for me.
ARD: That's really interesting. Uh, I think you, uh, you've certainly given usa different perspective on choosing to be a judge. And, and then getting appointed. And as I understand it then you had to run in the next election cycle.
ARD: So can you tell me a little bit about what it's like to run a campaign fora judge?
STEVENS: Yes. (laughs)
ARD: Will you?
STEVENS: I absolutely can. And I will. Uh, my, my, my, uh, gosh, I've got somany thoughts going through my head when you ask that question right now. I've got to organize them very quickly. Uh, uh, I think just that, uh, number one, there's a separate process altogether that goes into getting appointed judge. 00:34:00It's a completely different process than getting elected judge. And I think people don't recognize sometimes the difference. Uh, getting appointed judge is, is, uh, in, uh, a large part of it is your profile and then it's also making connections, uh, in Frankfort. Not necessarily with the governor him- or herself but with individuals of influence, uh, within the governor's administration. Uh, so that's one process. And navigating that is a minefield. And then there's the process of getting elected, uh, which I have determined to be a fairly simplistic process. Uh, the issue is getting your name out there and getting, uh, I, I would think just, just getting your name out there and, 00:35:00uh, finding a way to get that done. Uh, and, and I think people lose focus sometimes because judicial races are different, uh, that, that nine times out of ten the voters don't know who you are or your opponent is. So the question is how are you going to get them to, to check your name and not the other names or name. And every minute, my theory is, and I s--I spoke on it today on, on social media, I think every minute that I spend talking about my opponent in a negative way particularly is to my detriment. Because, uh, I'm mentioning them. I'm giving them attention that they need not get, and they probably wouldn't get, in any other way. Uh, when I ran, uh, my opponent, uh, ran a--ran a 00:36:00negative ad, uh, with me and, and the president. And it was my picture, myself, shaking hands with the president, face to face with him and talking to him. And, uh, I was proud of the picture obviously and I had it on my website. Well, he took it and made it his campaign ad. That was--it was 75, 80 percent was this big picture of Olu Stevens face to face with Barack Obama. And this little picture of him in the corner, the opponent. And he said, "This is why you should--I'm from here and he's not, he takes money from DC and I don't; I'm military and he's not." Okay. All of which was true. But misleading to say the least, particularly when I'm taking money from DC from my mother and my father and my brother, uh, and not from anybody who knows Barack Obama. But it turned out, uh, that the ad itself, uh, backfired on him because people didn't 00:37:00like that in judicial races, number one, and number two, if they were paying attention, if it did sl--catch their attention, they caught it for some local judge who knows the president. And I don't know who he is, but I'm going to vote for this guy. You know, uh, and, and, uh, had a lot of people coming up to me and, and, and, and encouraging me. Uh, but one of the things that I didn't do, uh, was when the newspe--when the news, uh, the, the, the television stations and the radio stations started calling for comment, that I had no comment. I had nothing. Because I felt if I gave it any, even to say something negative about it would give him more than what he was entitled to. So I let it go. Uh, and I never said anything about it. Uh, and, and it--and it worked out. So my message is on judicial races, uh, my experience is at least that, 00:38:00uh, I'm, I'm competing with one person; I'm competing with myself. I'm trying to get my name out there as much as possible. Uh, and, uh, I don't want anybody else's name out there more than mine. I mean that's my philosophy honestly. It's not--and, uh, uh, I'm not saying it happens. But, uh, but I'm paying attention if another judge in another race is getting more attention than me. It catches my eye. Uh, but that should be--if there's competition, if there's paying attention to anything, it should be for that. But it shouldn't be denigrating anyone; it shouldn't be talking about anyone in a negative light. Because, uh, number one, it shouldn't be done, number two, uh, there's nothing to be gained from it in judicial races. Uh, there's very, very little, uh, to be gained from it. And, uh, I can point to example after example after example of, uh, when things got negative in judicial races here in Jefferson County and it turned out very bad for the person who went negative. So, uh, that's, uh, that's the major difference I think, uh, that, that, that it is--running for 00:39:00judge in Jefferson County in my opinion and on my one whole campaign that I've run is more akin to running for sixth grade class president than it is president of the United States. They need to know my name. And know I'm a nice person and I'm a fair person. Uh, but they're not going to know what I stand for because I'm not going to be able, nine times out of ten, to tell them, uh, this is, uh, uh, they know I stand for certain principles, but in terms of positions on the issues, they're not going to--they're not going to know that. Uh, they're going to have to trust that I'm going to make a, a decision that's fair and I'm going to hear both sides out and that, that I'm a good person. Uh, and, uh, they're going to have to remember my name.
ARD: And did you learn that philosophy of campaigning from someone? Was there00:40:00someone that taught you some of the basics of campaigning?
STEVENS: Uh, yes. First of all I have to--I had a meeting with JusticeMcAnulty. And Justice McAnulty said some things to me about running for judge. And I went to see him because I said, "Well, if anybody knows how to run for judge in Jefferson County it's, it's Justice McAnulty. I mean he knows--he's got to know everything there is to know." And I remember sitting in his office and he was smoking and I, I wasn't a smoker. (laughs) And I was choking it down. But I was also taking down every bit of information that he gave me, uh, about running a campaign. And he was so gracious. He explained to me from the very beginning what needs to be done, down to when do you run TV ads. I mean that particular. Uh, or generally how do you approach, uh, making a speech in 00:41:00the South End, where people may be skeptical of you, uh, because maybe you look different from everybody else. Uh, how do you--how do you approach that. Uh, so he gave me a lot of, of things, uh, that, that, that I've not gotten from anybody else. And I've tried. And if somebody comes and talks to me I try to pass on to. Uh, but it's not--it's, uh, be honest with you. A lot of the things that I got are not things that I would put out in the public domain. I mean I think it, it does take some explanation, it's real, it's, it's, it's, uh, it's practical stuff. Uh, it's based on experience and, uh, and I never really understood. I wasn't understanding when he--I was taking it down. Had no idea until I experienced it. Uh, but I would say I find myself at the end of the night on the campaign trail saying, "This is what--this is what Justice McAnulty was talking about." You know, uh, I said that often. But he was very, uh, very 00:42:00influential to me. And then, uh, the president. I don't know. Hopefully I'll be, uh, I'd have run for judge if it wasn't for Barack Obama. But I don't know. Uh, honestly. There, there, there are a lot of people saying a lot of things. And sometimes, uh, you let people influence you. If they--if they say, "Well, you can't be a judge in Louisville, Kentucky with a name like Olu, nobody's going to vote for you. Olu, they don't even know, they're afraid of that, you're not going to be a judge," then if you hear that, and you internalize it, it keeps you from doing things. Uh, and, and, and I have to admit I, I may have been one of those people if it wasn't for Barack Obama. And, uh, you know, I just figured if he can win, he can win a, a nation, a national race for 00:43:00president of the United States, and, uh, a--if he can do that, and he can put up with everything that he had to put up with, whatever I'm dealing with, my little ad (laughs) or whatever, I mean that's nothing. Uh, but he encouraged me because his name, and, and, and it was different and, and yet and still he was able to do this wonderful thing on such a grand scale. And I said, "Well, if he can do that then I can definitely run for local judge. I mean that's not a--that's not a big deal." And that--and, uh, and whatever, if there was a fence, if there was a wall that I wasn't able, uh, or wasn't willing to scale, uh, uh, that tore it down. And I was ready, uh, at that point, uh, and, and, and, uh, to really run. Uh, so that's--I think if I had to point to two people I--I'd say it's, it's those two. Uh, I wouldn't say my, my, my family is--they 00:44:00were--they were scared for me. They did not want me, uh, my father did not want me to run for judge. Uh, he--they're not from here. They were concerned. Uh, my mother, uh, did not want me to run for judge. And believe me, with every negative thing that was said, uh, she's probably--she's ready to come over here. (laughs) So, uh, but I, I point to those two folks, uh, those two--those two--those two men, uh, as being, uh, the most influential people as far as my decision to be a judge.
ARD: Okay. Uh, you've talked a little bit about, uh, when you first moved hereyou hung out at the LBA. And so was that, uh, a difficult thing to, to get involved and, and get included? Uh, in the legal community? Or did you find that they were pretty receptive to, uh, having you participate?
STEVENS: I, I, I feel like I was the most, uh, fortunate person and the most00:45:00fortunate person in Louisville. Uh, for whatever reason, I came along and people took an interest in me. And they welcomed me. And they didn't, uh, never ostracized me, never treated me any differently. I was on my own; I'd be in a room full of, uh, uh, partners in large firms and me. And they were older than me, more experienced than me, but they never treated me any differently. Uh, at least they didn't let me know that. Uh, they never, uh, even when, you know, when I was at the head of the table, when I was thirty-six and I hadn't been at it very long, uh, I felt like I had the respect of the people in the room and, uh, I felt like I had--they, they had--they had confidence in me that I could do it. And, uh, you know, that's, that's, that's what I say about Louisville all the time. It's a wonderful city because people were so welcoming of me. I didn't know anybody. And, uh, and, and I've never--I've never felt 00:46:00that. I've never felt like, uh, any different or people were treating me differently because I wasn't from here or I was young or I was--or I'm black or anything. Uh, I've never--I've never felt like I've had any, any, any limitations.
ARD: Would you share with me one of the most memorable things, uh, with--amemory of one of the most memorable cases that you've presided over as a judge?
STEVENS: Uh, yes. Uh, uh, I'm, I'm going through in my mind. The, the, thecase. Because there's been a--there've been a number of them. Uh, one of them was, uh, the one that sticks out in my mind whenever anybody asks me that is the Mollie Shouse case. And, and Mollie Shouse locked her baby in the--or left her baby in the car. And her baby, uh, died. Uh, uh, was essentially fried to 00:47:00death. And, uh, that was a jury trial. And that was a difficult, difficult trial to, to get through. A lot of media attention and what have you. Managing all those things. But then aside from that just the content. Uh, the pictures of the baby. And, uh, just some of the decisions that we need to make--or I needed to make as far as what was going to be admitted. And, uh, and how it was going to be admitted. And, and those things. But what really I think of when I think of that is, uh, her sentencing and how difficult that was for me, uh, to sentence her. Because she had made a colossal, uh, mistake in the light most favorable to her. She made--she did something that was, was just unspeakable. Uh, and she was going to have to live with that for the rest of her life. And, uh, the jury, uh, I think had recommended like twenty-eight years or something like that. And I was--I was struggling with that, to be honest. Uh, she'd done 00:48:00this thing and it was bad. And, and her child wasn't here anymore. But that twenty-eight years, uh, sentencing her to twenty-eight years was a difficult thing. Uh, because it's--I know it's, uh, it's got to be difficult to lose a child. Uh, even if it's your fault it's got to be difficult. You got to live with it. And, uh, I remember telling her--I'm even getting choked up right now. But I told her that, uh, she chose her--the drugs over her child. And I remember just being so emotional. It's on tape. I could probably get it from somewhere and watch it, because I was so emotional that I choked up saying it. I mean I remember my voice breaking. Uh, as I told her that. And, uh, if I had to point to one time in the whole time I've been on the bench, the one thing 00:49:00that I remember is, is, is that sentencing. And how difficult it was and, uh, and, uh, I remember just getting off the bench right away and just coming in and just crying like a baby after that. Uh, it was a--it, it was tough. And to this day I'm not quite sure. You know, she, she did this. And, and this baby was gone. And some people might say, "Well, you know, that--it's, it's easy to sentence somebody. You know, she did this and, and, and the baby died in that way, she deserves this, and why is it so difficult?" It, it was trem--it was one of the hardest things I've ever done is to sentence her. Uh, to that term. I mean it was a very very difficult thing to do.
ARD: It sounds like it would be very difficult. Thank you for sharing that.
ARD: Uh, obviously we talked a little bit about your involvement at the barassociation and stuff. But are there other community, uh, activities that you do, uh, when you're not busy making difficult decisions? 00:50:00
STEVENS: (laughs) Yes. Uh, well, I, I love to, to talk to, uh, communitygroups. I get invited, uh, quite a bit to do that. And, uh, and, uh, expanding that a little bit, going to go to, uh, Hopkinsville for the first time. And, uh, visit there, and, uh, speak at, at a, uh, at a breakfast there, an African American heritage breakfast in February. They've invited me to be the keynote speaker there. And so, uh, I'm looking forward to that. Uh, but, uh, but I love to talk to community groups. Children, uh, any--I've been invited to any number of schools to speak and, uh, uh, or to talk to, uh, groups of, uh, young people, after school at different things that they're into, community events. Uh, so I enjoy all of that. And, uh, that's where my focus is. In addition, uh, I--I've spent--I just spend a lot of time writing things. Uh, most of it 00:51:00related to the law. But I think honestly, uh, uh, uh, I think there's somewhat of a void of, uh, yeah, so how do I say this without sounding critical? I think there's a void of, of, of leadership in the law, uh, that I'm trying to fill. I think people look to us as judges, uh, to do more than just, uh, sit on the bench and render opinions and, and, uh, and what have you. They look--they certainly look to us to do that. Uh, but I think they look to us a lot more in times of, of, uh, of strife and, and difficult times. I think they're comforted somewhat by hearing what our perspective is. And it's not so much about me but it's about the position. I think it's, uh, it's important as members of, of the community that we not alienate ourselves entirely from the community. I, I think it's a good thing to be separate because you have to be to make certain 00:52:00decisions. But, uh, to entirely separate yourself from the community is, is--to me is a disservice. I mean the reason that we are elected by the people is to be of the people. And, uh, you know, I feel it necessary from time to time to speak out on issues, uh, on, on social media online on the Internet or whatever. And I, I don't speak on any particular case. I don't talk about the particulars of that. Uh, but I--I've been known to and, uh, I will again give my opinion on issues that I think are important to our community, uh, where I don't--it will not come before me but I think, uh, it's necessary for me to speak to it. Uh, and, and, uh, I'll just continue to do that. I don't--I don't know, uh, what issues that may cause for me down the road. Uh, they, they tell 00:53:00me a lot of times, uh, you know, that hey, when you're up for a federal judgeship they d--they don't--they don't want to see a lot of writing. Well, they've got a lot of writing on me. Uh, they've got--anybody wants to look and see what I've done for the last four and a half years need only go to Facebook or the Internet and, and see. It's all there all the time. And, uh, not saying it's all right. But, uh, but I stand behind all of it, everything. Everything I've said. Uh, and I've left it on there, uh, for that reason. So, uh, I, I just think it's important. Uh, for us to, to be visible in the community and to, uh, speak out on issues of importance. Uh, particularly, uh, where it relates to the law. Uh, people are--people are comforted by that. They want to know what you think. And sometimes they may disagree with you but they--I think they, they like that you--you've spoken to the issue.
ARD: I'm going to ask a potentially difficult question.00:54:00
ARD: When you say us do you mean judges? Do you mean black judges? Do youmean Jefferson County judges?
STEVENS: Yes. Yes. (laughs) Yes. My answer is yes.
STEVENS: Uh, I think that there are issues of importance to our entirecommunity that it's necessary for, uh, judges to speak out on and for people to understand that, uh, where, where we stand on the issues. I think there are, uh, issues of particular importance to the African American community and they are expecting us as, uh, African American judges to address issues, uh, of relevance to the--to, to the law and that impact upon them in our community. Uh, so I don't think there's enough of it honestly. Uh, but that's up to--everybody does it a different way. And, uh, I respect that. But, but I 00:55:00think--I think there's a real void. Uh, and, you know, if you ask me if I try to f--am, am I trying to fill it, yeah, I'm trying to fill it. But I don't, uh, I can't fill it by myself. Uh, it's a--it's a--it's a--it's a dangerous thing. It's a--it's a--it's a fine line to walk, uh, but I think it, it, it--it's absolutely necessary. Uh, is it safer as a judge not to have any public comment on anything? Yes. Absolutely. Uh, but, uh, uh, are you fulfilling your role as a judge in this community? Uh, in my opinion you're not. Uh, it's good. Everybody's got a job. Everybody gets a paycheck. Everybody does their job as far as they can. And that's great. Uh, but, but the reason that we stand for election, uh, by the people is for us to be involved in the issues of our community and, and what our community faces and for us to be visible, uh, when, 00:56:00when, when issues arise and not, not, not go hiding around the corner because we're concerned, uh, that it might impact upon our personal, uh, our, our, our, our aspirations or our job. That's the way I feel.
ARD: Thank you for sharing that. Is the--can you tell me a little bit aboutthe Expanded Horizons Project?
STEVENS: Sure. Uh, first of all, uh, he, he does not want any credit at all.But my friend, uh, my dear friend, one of my, uh, just about my closest friend in life, Bryan Coomer, uh, is the one that came up with that name. Uh, so I have to give him the credit for that. He's going to be--he's going to--he's going to hate me for saying that. Uh, but he's been very helpful. But the Expanded Horizons Project was really something that was born in my mind on Father's Day, this past Father's Day, when I was on Facebook and I wrote a post about accepting responsibility, uh, that our, our young men need to accept responsibility, uh, for what they are doing and what they--and accept their, uh, 00:57:00responsibility for what they can become. Uh, and so, uh, uh, I wrote this post on my--yeah, my judge page I guess I'll refer to it as. And, uh, I've been on Facebook long enough to know kind of the dynamics of Facebook. Uh, likes, and that's very--that's nice when you get a lot of likes. It's, it's a nice thing. And you get, you know, double-digit likes, it's a nice little post there. But this one seemed, uh, this one took on a--just really exploded off the bat. And it was, you know, looking at it, it was like two hundred likes and three hundred likes and four hundred likes and people were sharing it. And if you get one person to share any post you do I guess that's a great thing. But like ninety-eight people got on there and shared this thing and Facebook is sending me notifications that, that twenty thousand people saw this one post. And, uh, that's p--that's powerful. It's--it, it, it, it touched a nerve in a lot of 00:58:00people, uh, what I was speaking to, uh, stepping up, assuming responsibility, and challenging, uh, people to, to, to, to take some role in, in making sure that we, uh, we assist our young people. And, uh, that was the basis of it. I said, "Well, what can I do? What c--what, what can I do to kind of do something instead of just talking about what we need to do? Now I've got to do something to show that I'm actually committed to it." And I came up with this idea that I was going to have--be more involved with some of the young men that I deal with. I couldn't be involved with, uh, uh, I wish I could take all of them. But that's just--it's not going to happen. So how can I become more involved with them? And more than that, uh, the picture that I put with it was a picture of myself with my son. And the whole concept of the EHP was let me, uh, try to 00:59:00expose these young men to, to positive influences like I've exposed my young man to that I've made sure I've, I've--I know there are people that I want him around and there are people I don't want him around. And I've made sure that I bring them around my son and I bring my son around them and I make sure--there are other people that I absolutely would never bring around my, my son. So I said, "That's, that's the basic concept and why can't I do that then with some of these young men? I mean why can't we give them exposure to positive influence and see if that changes anything?" So, uh, the--that was part of it. Then the other part was back to my days at Morehouse. We would have the Crown Forum. And the Crown Forum, we would have speakers come in once a week, and they would be from, from ev--you know, every walk of life. Business. Uh, we 01:00:00had, uh, uh, clergy. Ev--you know, people coming in and, and great speakers. And, uh, the idea is that you, you would sit and listen to them. And you would take something from each and every one of them. And I said, "Well, why can't we combine kind of all these things into some experience for a limited number of these individuals? Let them know that I'm personally invested in it, that I, I care about what they're doing and I'm looking into what they're doing and I'm, uh, and I'm here to help them, instead of just here to send them to prison. Then see if that makes any difference." And so that's, that's really the basis of the whole EHP thing. I mean it's, it's, it's really, uh, designed to expose young men to positive influences that will assist them in being, uh, uh, productive members of the community. Uh, that's the goal. And it's really some, uh, and it's really, uh, it's concentrated on the men. Just because 01:01:00that's most of what we see. It's very rare that I have a female defendant in circuit court, to be honest. Uh, uh, uh, I think the numbers will bear it out. Uh, but what we're talking about, particularly the violent offenders that are young men that are out there with nothing to do, no goal, no career path, no plan for their life, and what we're trying to do, uh, with the Expanded Horizons Project is to get, get them back to basics. There's not going to be any quick fix. That's what I tell them all the time. Uh, you're used to quick fixes that's why you're in here. But this is going to be a slower process. But what we're going to try to do is show you that you--everything takes planning. And you have to develop some goals. And then you have to develop a path to achieve the goals. And you have to be specific about the steps that you're going to take. So I had them write down for instance, uh, give me one of your goals and three steps you're going to take to achieve. Well, one of their goals might be I'm going to be a good person and, you know, and that's great. But they don't 01:02:00understand they need to get specific. And then they need to get specific about their plan for achieving. So if they're going to go to college, what are they going to do to get there. If they're going to open up their own business, what kind of business, and what, what exactly are you going to do to do it. And so we're still at that stage. But we're getting--I'm bringing in--for instance I had, uh, my friend Andre Wilson who's the president of, uh, Style Icon come in, uh, this past Wednesday and he talked to them. And you would think it's about clothes but it's not about clothes. It's there. And, and, and, and he's talking about appearances. But really what he's talking about is how do you want to see yourself, where do you want to see yourself, and, and, and how do you want other people to see you. And that c--that, that conc--those concepts apply across the board. It's not about--they're listening as though well, should I match the shirt with the--that's, that's not what he's saying. And, and, and, uh, we're not there yet with most of our folks. But they're, they're 01:03:00going to understand eventually that that's not what he's saying. Uh, but we, we--Andre came in and gave a nice presentation. DeVone Holt, a friend of mine who, who gave an excellent presentation, uh, last month. And, uh, so that's what we're trying to do. I mean we're trying to mix in, uh, practical, uh, things with, with, uh, inspirational things and, and--but all, all of it involves the same message that there's got to be some planning for your life. There's got to be some goal for your life. And then you've got to develop a plan for achieving the goal. Uh, and, and, you know, it's just a work in progress. I mean we're going to lose some folks. But we just, uh, we're just going to continue and see what happens.
ARD: Thank you. That sounds like a, uh, an, an ambitious and well needed program.
STEVENS: Well, thank you. Uh, uh, an ambitious and sometimes, uh, overly so Ithink. But we're, we're pressing on nonetheless.
ARD: Well, I'm, I'm all for ambition. Uh, so I'm going to lead us into kind of01:04:00our closing questions.
ARD: Uh, does it surprise you to hear that the number of African Americans inthe legal field has remained relatively unchanged?
STEVENS: No. Uh, it doesn't. Uh, it's been a little while since I've beeninvolved with the admissions at the law school, at the Brandeis School. Uh, but when I was, uh, president of the bar association and before that I was involved, uh, with admissions. Uh, not in a formal sense but an informal sense. And, uh, their dean of admissions and I would have, uh, lunch and talk about incoming class. Uh, uh, a number of lawyers now, who are practicing now, are lawyers, uh, particularly the, uh, some of the African American, uh, young men that are practicing before me every day, I wrote letters to, uh, when they were in 01:05:00college, encouraging them to come to the Brandeis School. And, and two that I can think of in particular that I see, uh, quite a bit, uh, are, are practicing attorneys now, very good practicing attorneys at that. Uh, so I was always involved. But the numbers to me were always low. And, and, and, and, uh, we were talking about ways to improve that. But also, uh, you can't just improve the numbers. You've got to improve retention. And, uh, there was--there was a real problem with retention then. And, uh, if the numbers are holding steady then that problem is continuing. Because I know for instance that there have been larger classes brought in. But if the numbers are still flat, it just tells me that the issue is now at the law school. And I'm not just singling out the Brandeis School. I'm saying any school. Uh, but the issue is an internal one for the law school. How do you then--you get a good student in at the door, so the student is good enough to be admitted to the law school, now how are you 01:06:00going to, uh, assist them, uh, while they're at the law school and, and, and, uh, again no criticism of the law school, I don't know what's going on over there. And I don't--I'm sure things are in place. But, uh, but to me that's the focus. If the numbers are flat, uh, the concentration should then shift to not just, uh, getting the students, obtaining the students, but, uh, but maintaining the students.
ARD: Do you have any recommendations for how to not only increase the minorityparticipation in the legal field but to work with that retention? And, and to get people interested in serving in the legal field?
STEVENS: Um-hm. I do. I, I, I think, uh, and it's part of what I kind off--uh, it's one of the reasons I go. Whenever I'm asked to go to a school I go to the school. And I talk about the law, what I do, anything they want to talk about. Uh, because I think it's a matter of, of getting the young people early. 01:07:00Uh, getting them exposed early. Like, like I was. Uh, and then once they get into law school it's a matter of exposing, uh, our minority law students to really what it's like to practice law. I mean they should be over here a whole lot more. Uh, I had students come in and sit in the back of the courtroom during break. Uh, during this winter break. And, uh, that's good. Uh, but a lot more of them should be over here. I mean because this is the way you learn, uh, uh, uh, as a law student. To observe, uh, the best lawyers in court and trial and hearings and other things. And, and you start getting, uh, an understanding of, of the practical aspects to the law. I mean there's--it's one thing to read the book. And I think that's the thing that I skipped initially. I mean, uh, uh, uh, in my education. Uh, and I spoke to it just vague--uh, but I kind of vaguely spoke to it. The bottom line is that my--I--my education jumped leaps and bounds once I was able to apply the, uh, the, the, the book 01:08:00knowledge, uh, to the practical experience of, of the law. Then I began to understand, uh, that for instance civil procedure is really probably the easiest class I've ever taken at any level ever. Because it's just what happens next. That's all there is. And, uh, there's not a whole lot to that. But if you are looking at it in a vacuum, if you--if you don't have practical experience and you're just simply reading the book, you can't put it together, the flow chart together. You don't know what comes next. It doesn't come natural. And, uh, that's to me, uh, maybe where a lot of the law students and maybe perhaps, uh, the minority students are falling down. That there's not the practical experience. Uh, because everybody wants the big firm job. But you can't get the big firm job. Not everybody can get that. And my theory is that the big firm job is not going to give you what you can get in here. It's, it's not. 01:09:00It's going to put more money in your pocket and everybody needs that, I get it. But I tell them all the time, "If you can afford to do it, you should be in here as opposed to in what I call the ivory towers. Because the ivory towers is good too, I mean it shows you certain things and, and, and, and shows you how to get around and about the firm, but the practical things that you need, uh, to be successful as a lawyer, uh, to be successful as a law student even, you're going to get in here talking to the lawyers, observing them, asking questions of them, asking questions of the judge." Uh, that's the kind of experience I think, uh, that more of the law students need.
ARD: So if you were speaking to a younger person of yourself, what advice wouldyou give?
STEVENS: Well, uh, I would give this--I would s--certainly say, "Seek someoneout, uh, who's done it before. And, uh, and question them about it. Uh, it's 01:10:00that simple. And, uh, don't, don't reinvent the wheel. There's no reason for it. Uh, there's somebody that's done, uh, what it is nine times out of ten that you're attempting to do. And it's a matter of, uh, identifying that individual and talking to them. And my theory remains that any lawyer--if you ask any lawyer, 'Well, how do you do something?' they--they'll be happy to tell you. Uh, I had a young lawyer in who, uh, who was trying his first case and he was trying in circuit court. And he's, uh, he probably should not have been doing that. Uh, but he, he did okay. We talked about it afterwards and one thing I told him was hey look, uh, there are a lot of people out here that will help you, but you have to ask. Uh, and, and he says, "Well, I'm just not." I said, "I know about that because I've talked to--before our conversation I talked to 01:11:00two people and I asked them if you called them and asked them to come over with you to circuit court, because you were trying a case and you needed somebody to help you pick a jury and you'd never done that before, would they do it. Yes. And you would do it without charging? Absolutely." Now maybe they're just telling me that, but my experience says no, they're not just telling me that. And I--I've lived that. Uh, not so much in the jury selection, uh, process and the con--uh, and that concept. But just in the concept of saying, "I don't know what to do. Can you help me?" And people are more than willing to do it. Uh, but it's a matter of reaching out and, uh, that's what I would advise a young person, that, uh, you've got to do that. Uh, uh, if you--if you're too--I don't even call it proud. I think it's a lot of times people think that whoever it is just doesn't have time for, for them. They won't pay attention to them. Hey, I'm not going to call Judge Stevens because he's not going to--he's not going to have time to talk to me. Well, the reality is that I, I would have time. But 01:12:00I, I don't have time to chase you down. But I've got time to talk to you. If you show the initiative, you come see me, uh, I give you what I have. Uh, but that's, that's the advice that I would--I would give, uh, to a young--to a young lawyer.
ARD: That's very good advice. Is there anything you'd like to discuss that wehaven't hit upon yet?
STEVENS: Uh, well, I think, you know, related to the, the, uh, the experienceof an African American judge, uh, I'll touch on this. My first day, uh, I was appointed judge on July 1st, 2009, and it was probably, uh, in terms of euphoria, the euphoria of the moment, I don't want to compare it to wedding days or children being born because that's, that's, you know, that's off the charts. But just--I mean you know something might be coming but you just don't know 01:13:00when. And when you get this, when you've been trying to do this for a long time, and you get that call, and it's the call saying you got what it is that you've been working for, there's really nothing that compares to that, that feeling, uh, that I had. Uh, but then, you know, I remember on July 2nd going out and picking up the newspaper and opening the newspaper and the front page. And I, you know, I kind of expected to see something in the front page about it. And I did. It was on the front of the metro section, but it wasn't what I thought it was going to be. Uh, the headline was "Three Blacks Appointed Judge in Jefferson," and it was deflating. Uh, I opened it up and that's what I saw. This is what I've been--this is the moment I've been waiting for. And that's what I saw. And, and I read the article. And somewhere down in the middle of the article it said, "And Olu Stevens was appointed to the circuit court." And 01:14:00I remember being very disappointed by that, I mean it wasn't what I thought that moment was going to be. And, uh, I'd given a presentation shortly after that, uh, at the--at the--at the, uh, undergraduate. I was invited to talk as part of a group of, uh, uh, Morehouse men actually. Uh, two professors and me. I was way out of place. They were way, way above my, uh, my grade. But at any rate, uh, I was invited out there by, uh, Ricky Jones who's also a Morehouse guy. And, uh, it was the King, uh, Martin Luther King, uh, Martin Luther King, Jr., uh, Lecture. And I think it may have been the first one. And, uh, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Morehouse man. So we talked about Morehouse and we talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy that one would be judged by 01:15:00the content of one cha--one's character and not by the color of one's skin. And I--it made me think well, how far have we come in 2009 when I get appointed judge and the headline is that I'm black. And I start--I really thought about that and, and, and, and it's disappointing, but at the same time it, it, it emphasizes the point that it's always going to be significant, uh, when there are forty-three judges and none of them are, are black. It's always going to be the headline that a black judge got appointed. But we need to reach the point where it's not the headline anymore, that when, when, when a judge gets appointed, when, uh, Olu Stevens gets appointed judge it's because Olu Stevens 01:16:00gets appointed judge and maybe somewhere down the middle of it you find out that he's black. Uh, when we reach that point then we, we've fulfilled--we've fulfilled the dream. But we haven't--we haven't done that yet. And, uh, that's why I mean--and, and, and, uh, that's why I appreciate what you all are doing, uh, with this project. I think it's just a wonderful thing what you're doing. Uh, and, uh, I hope that, you know, when people--if they listen to this or they listen to, uh, Brian Edwards or, uh, Judge Lynch or whoever, I mean start thinking about doing this. Uh, because we--we've got to get to that point. We got to get to that point where the bench really is representative of the community. Uh, and, and, and the viewpoints of the community. Not because I'm going to make a decision that's a black decision. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to make a decision that's fair and it's--and it's without regard to what you look like. But there's a certain perspective that I have that other 01:17:00individuals don't have. Uh, there's a background that I come from that other individuals come from a different background. And, uh, we need all that in order to make good decisions for the people. So, uh, my hope is that somebody, somebody takes what you're doing about the history of this, of, of, of, of, of this position and, and, and really does something with it for the future.
ARD: I think that's a wonderful way to close. Thank you so much.
STEVENS: Thank you. Appreciate it.
[End of interview.]