Tom Colbert becomes Oklahoma Supreme Court's first black chief justice
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Saturday, January 05, 2013
1/05/13 at 7:25 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Tom Colbert became the first black person to serve as chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court when he was sworn in Friday.
Former Gov. Brad Henry appointed Colbert, who graduated from Sapulpa High School, to the court in 2004. Henry attended the ceremony. Colbert thanked Henry for his commitment to diversity in the judiciary.
Justice Steven Taylor, who finished his term as chief justice, called it a historic day.
Colbert is the first African-American to serve on the state's nine-member high court. He was sworn in by retired Oklahoma County District Judge Charles Owens.
A soft-spoken, humble and gracious Colbert thanked those who broke the color barrier, enabling him to climb the ladder to his current position. He also thanked those who helped him advance in his education and career.
The man who was raised by a single mother, who sat on the front row next to his wife, also had some words for youth who may feel hopeless or discouraged.
"You are the future leaders of this great nation and when you walk out of this room today you will have an effect on the people around you," he said. "Each choice you make today will change your life and that of the people around you."
Education is the key to breaking the chains of poverty and improving the quality of life, he said. He told them to never give up on their dreams, aspirations and goals. "Never let anyone discourage you from fulfilling your dream if it is noble and honest," Colbert said.
Colbert said at one point he considered leaving the court. He was told by family that the opportunity to serve as chief justice was not about him, but about those who had sacrificed their dreams, their freedoms, their health and safety, and some who paid the ultimate price.
Prior to his service on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Colbert served on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.
Colbert earned a bachelor's from Kentucky State University in 1973. He was an All-American track and field competitor in college.
He served in the U.S. Army and received an honorable discharge in 1975. He earned a master's in education from Eastern Kentucky University in 1976 and taught in Chicago public schools. He earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1982.
He was assistant dean at Marquette University Law School from 1982 until 1984. He was an assistant district attorney from 1984 until 1986 in Oklahoma County. He was in private practice from 1986 until 2000 in Oklahoma City.
Colbert's law school classmate, David B. Lewis, earlier this week began serving as the first African American presiding judge of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's high court for criminal matters. Colbert recognized Lewis, who attended the ceremony.
After taking the oath of office, Colbert swore in John Reif as vice presiding judge.
The ceremonies were held before a standing-room-only crowd in the Supreme Court courtroom in the Capitol. Overflow seating was available in the hallway.
Original Print Headline: High court gets first black chief justice
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
Tom Colbert takes the oath Friday as chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The swearing-in was conducted by retired Judge Charles Owens (left). DAVID MCDANIEL/The Oklahoman