Judge Eileen A. Olds '82 Inaugurated as President of American Judges Association| December 3, 2007
Judge Eileen A. Olds, a 1982 graduate of the Law School, became the first Virginian to be inaugurated president of the American Judges Association in the group's 49 year history. The ceremony, held during the AJA's annual conference in Vancouver in September, was the largest gathering of judges in North America. Judge Olds currently presides as a judge of the Chesapeake Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, after serving four years as chief judge.
The AJA, which serves as the 'The Voice of the Judiciary' for American and Canadian judges, aims to promote and improve the administration of justice; maintain the independence of the judiciary; provide continuing education for its members and the public; and allow for the exchanges of ideas among judges. The AJA is the largest independent association of North American judges.
In keeping with her entire legal career, Judge Olds said that a signature piece of her AJA platform will include an outreach to the communities served by the courts and will include all those with a vested interest in procedural fairness.
"I realize that I take office at a time when equal access issues and excessive representation of minorities in the justice system remain," Judge Olds said. "I plan to implement a 'Tell it to the Judge' initiative that will allow citizens and judges to directly talk about key issues and concerns within the court system. Rather than limiting discussions to those among judges, the missing piece is the valuable input from those directly affected -- the community. Greater sensitivity and awareness are needed first steps to helping judges take stock in these issues."
Judge Olds received a bachelor of arts degree with distinction from the University of Virginia in 1979, and a juris doctor from the William & Mary Law School in 1982.
"I have been concerned, for as long as I can remember, about issues of fairness," she said. "I would always question the how and why of things; I had a keen sense of inequity. It seemed logical that I would pursue criminal defense as it is an area where adequate representation often makes the difference between confinement and freedom. Guilty or innocent, I knew instinctively that a lot of disadvantaged people did not have the benefit of competent legal representation."
During law school Judge Olds was inducted into Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, served as President of the Black American Law Student Association (BALSA), as it was called then (it is now the Black Law Students Association), and was a founding member of the Williamsburg Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a national service organization.
"At the time I entered there were only 13 African American students at the Law School," Judge Olds said, "and there were no minority faculty members at all." She was one of four African- American students who graduated in the class of 1982. "BALSA as a whole was concerned about the lack of diversity in the Law School."
Judge Olds began her legal career in 1982 as a private practitioner specializing in criminal defense and domestic relations law. In addition to her private practice, she was appointed in 1984 by the Attorney General of Virginia to represent the State Department of Highways and Transportation, and reappointed in 1986. She also served as a Commissioner in Chancery and as a Divorce Commissioner.
Prior to 1995, Judge Olds served as legal counsel to many community groups and maintained active membership in numerous professional and civic activities including: the Chesapeake School Board's Advisory Council, Past President of the South Hampton Roads Bar Association, and the Virginia State Bar Commission on Women and Minorities in the legal profession. She is an active member of the American, Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Portsmouth Bar Associations, as well as the Virginia Association of Women Attorneys.
"I am also still passionate about the protection of children who are often the most affected by domestic discord," she said. "My domestic relations experience prior to 1995 was primarily custody related. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology. That, along with my practical knowledge gained as an attorney, are used daily. I had vast trial and court experience which I believe is a tremendous asset to have as a trial judge."
Judge Olds' 1995 appointment to the bench was historical. She became one of the two first African-American judges, and the first female judge in the First Judicial District in Virginia, and she continues to serve as the only female jurist.
"I attended my first American Judges Annual Conference when I was only a 'three-month-old judge'. Two other judges in my court were active members at the time, so I was made aware of the activities and mission of the AJA early. I have practically served as committee chair or member at some time or another of every AJA committee during the last 12 years. I also served as Secretary, Vice President and President Elect before taking office as President."
Life as an African American female law student beginning in 1979 had additional burdens other than those associated with adjustment to law school, the Judge said. "Matriculation from a Law School of Marshall-Wythe's caliber, however, must rank as one of the top five best decisions I ever made in my life. The return on that investment of time, sacrifice, and to an extent, social isolation, continues to yield tremendous benefit."
"The education at William & Mary was superb," she added, "and the interaction with the other students from many other walks of life, mirrors that of the legal profession as a whole. I have certainly benefitted time and time again from the Law School experience. I am delighted that I am still considered a part of the William & Mary family, and have been called upon on numerous occasions to speak to current students, and to participate in social events."
In 2007, Judge Olds was given the Distinguished Jurist award from the National Association of Women Judges. She also received the prestigious Thurgood Marshall award from the National Bar Association for her extraordinary commitment and personal contributions to the advancement of civil rights and for being a role model for members of the bench and bar. Judge Olds has been designated a Tazewell Taylor Jurist-in-Residence at the Law School.