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PROFILE: U.S. District Court Judge Appreciates His Liberal Arts Foundation

U.S. District Judge Stephen M. McNamee says he’s living proof that a liberal arts education can take you in unexpected directions. The University of Cincinnati alumnus presides in the District of Arizona federal court.

Date: 4/26/2004 8:00:00 AM
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-2019
UC ingot Appointed to his latest post by President George H. Bush in 1990, U.S. District Judge Stephen M. McNamee finds that on a daily basis he experiences ways in which his bachelor of arts degree in history, earned at UC in 1964, serves him well. The past is very much a part of the present, he finds.

U.S. District Judge Stephen M. McNamee

Given the chance to give advice to current undergrads at his alma mater, McNamee laughs: “I’m the last one to give anyone advice.” In seriousness, he adds: “I would say take the maximum advantage of the education that is available and don’t be afraid of setbacks. Keep an open mind about your professional direction. Because you may be taken in directions you never anticipate.” When he first came to UC out of Cincinnati’s Western Hills High School, McNamee majored in business, quickly realizing it did not suit him. During his first semester, he took a Western civilization course and found the lectures so spell-binding that he changed his major to history. It was a decision he never regretted.

“You learn a lot about things that affect our society from a historical point of view, and they tend to repeat themselves. There was a lot of writing involved, and I think that was helpful,” he says.

After graduating from UC, McNamee went to the University of Arizona to work on his master’s in history and decided to give law school a try. It worked out, and he earned his juris doctorate from Arizona in 1969 as well as a master’s degree in 1967. His first job as an attorney put him to work at the Florsheim Shoe Company, but he moved into the public sector in 1971 to become an assistant U.S. attorney. In 1979, he was appointed in a temporary assignment as an assistant director of the Attorney General’s Advocacy Institute in Washington, DC. Returning to Arizona in 1980, he then served as first assistant and later chief assistant U.S. attorney until 1985, when he was appointed the  U.S. attorney by President Reagan and served in that capacity from 1985 to 1990. “Certainly as a history major I never expected to end up as a U.S. District Court judge. I never really could have foreseen that. I am grateful for the honor of having these great experiences.”

McNamee’s career brings him into contact with issues that range from victim’s assistance to unidentified flying objects – as a district court judge, he was compelled to make a ruling on a lawsuit filed by an organization seeking the release of documents it claimed the U.S. government had about an alien space craft design.
As a U.S. attorney, McNamee helped to develop a model program for assisting victims and witnesses of federal crimes, especially Native American victims. His District of Arizona included 19 Native American reservations. He made prosecuting violent crime within Native American communities a top priority, particularly the prosecution of individuals who victimize innocent Native American children. He served as a member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee and as vice chair for that committee for two years. McNamee also implemented model collection procedures for fines and penalty assessments of federal defendants -- the source of funding for the entire Victims of Crime Act program. For these efforts, he was honored with the National Crime Victims Award from Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. Previously, he had also won the outstanding U.S. Attorney Award from Attorney General Edwin Meese III.

McNamee has also garnered honors for his leadership in bi-national collaboration between U.S. attorneys and federal courts and their Mexican counterparts. While he was U.S. Attorney under Richard Thornburgh, Thornburgh asked him to begin efforts to work more closely with Mexican legal authorities. He helped organize the first major conference to bring these professionals together in Mexico City. He also later helped develop a similar program bringing Mexican and U.S. federal judges together to learn about each other’s processes and procedures.

“I have been blessed throughout my professional life, and I have done things I would never have imagined as a young student. None of it would be possible if I had not received an excellent education from the universities I have attended,” McNamee says.

One of his latest awards is from the University of Cincinnati’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, which presented him with a Distinguished Alumni Award in spring 2003. For the past two decades, McNamee has served as president of the Phoenix Alumni Association of UC – a group that includes more than 600 UC alumni.

One final piece of advice he offers to students who will be future UC alums: “Take advantage of the educational opportunities at UC and all the chances to get involved.

“Make friends that will be a part of your life socially and professionally for the rest of your life,” says McNamee, who still keeps in touch with many of his former UC classmates, including Jack Nickerson and his Sigma Chi fraternity brothers Lauren Hill and Fred Scott, among others.


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