No amount of heat and humidity could diminish the admiration and respect that filled the air last Friday night on the second floor outdoor gazebo terrace of the Alexandria Holiday Inn. It all focused on a man who, for 15 years, has personified humanity in adjudication.
Stephen W. Rideout, chief judge, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, has hung up his judicial robes but not his desire to continue his passion to make families the child sanctuaries they were intended to be. "We can do better and get better results for kids," he said.
"I’m going to work with some non-profits dealing with children. I will continue to try to change our system to help children more. If we help the youngest, both socially and emotionally, they will do better in school and in life and we will all be better off," Rideout said.
After spending 15 years on the bench as a full-time judge and six years prior to that as a substitute judge, Rideout has become a "national icon" in the field of juvenile and domestic judiciary and in development of model court structure. Rideout and the model court he has overseen is cited throughout the nation at legal and judicial conferences, according to Deborah Collins, director, Human Services, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
"Many of you don't realize what an icon Judge Rideout is in the juvenile justice system," she said. "His name is always mentioned at judicial conferences. He made Alexandria into a model court for the nation. He has a passion for children and is determined for them to have a family that is good for them."
Prior to his first swearing in as a judge in March 1989, he practiced law in Alexandria for 20 years.
"Steve is a people justice. He honestly believes his job is to listen and adjudicate for the benefit of families," Alexandria Mayor William Euille wrote in a letter of recognition upon Rideout's retirement read by Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper. Euille was not present due to travel arrangements for the Democratic National Convention.
"He wasn't just a judge. He was someone very involved with the entire community because he was involved with children," Pepper said. "On behalf of all the families and the entire community we want to thank you. We all know what a terrific job you did. I just hope you know."
Alexandria City Manager Philip Sunderland, who served as city attorney prior to becoming manager, credited Rideout with "literally transforming juvenile justice in Alexandria. He has changed it to what government can do for people, not to people," Sunderland said.
"I always feel when people leave a place it's what they leave behind that's most important, their legacy. Judge Rideout has provided opportunities for those whose lives have been skewed. That's what he's done for juvenile justice," he said.
"STEVE HAS TRANSFORMED the courts and the system. But, he hasn't done it alone. He has done it with the help of social workers, court employees, and many others. The system is going to stay behind. We all owe you a great debt of gratitude," Sunderland said.
Lillian Brooks, director, Juvenile Court Services and an organizer of the event, read a list of characteristics that make for an exceptional jurist. "These characteristics raise the court from mediocre to outstanding," Brooks said.
"He administers the law in a consistent manner. This community doesn't how much they are going to miss him. Judge Rideout is a living legacy," she said.
Mary A. Elliot, assistant city attorney, City Attorney's office, announced that a plaque will be placed in Armory Playground on Royal Street to honor Rideout. "His family has always called that "Papa's Park," she said.
In response to the many well wishers, Rideout said, "I've had 15 wonderful years working with countless numbers of people in this community. And, I really haven't, as Phil said, been able to accomplish it alone.
"It's been with all your help. And, there are many things I intend to continue to work on in the future."
Following the accolades and presentations, Rideout said, "Right now I'm going to take the month of August off. Then, I intend to get back in. I'm presently serving on a team that is seeking federal grants to provide different services to families and juveniles."