U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange has few peers in service to Oklahoma and the world. She has served in a large capacity of positions that would make her a logical choice for the United States Supreme Court. Not just because of her extensive background but in her judicial temperament. She is kind, highly professional and just in her deliberation. Now, 65 years old, she took senior status and gave up her caseload to spend time with her mother who is nearing 100 years old. Given all her positions of service, it’s hard to believe Miles-LaGrange will no longer be serving her nation. She leaves a huge hole in experience and professionalism that will be nearly impossible to fill.
Her amazing career started as a young girl with an interest in government that was forged by her parents. Vicki’s favorite classes in her youth were civics and history. Her parents were both educators earning master’s degrees from Oklahoma University. Her family would spend every evening watching the news that was filled with the struggles of the civil rights movement and other social changes. She knew then change seemed to be in the hands of government and lawyers. In the early 60’s Miles-LaGrange wrote a letter to President John F. Kennedy. She received a response to her letter of praise from the President and it must have sparked her interest in government. In her church work she had opportunities to see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and later a childhood friend was going to help his mother run for Oklahoma State House of Representatives. The lady was Hannah Atkins. Not yet 18 she signed up as one of Hannah’s Helpers, a youth brigade of young campaigners for Atkins. In the end, Atkins won and young Vicki knew through effort great things could happen. She seemed to carry this feeling with her the rest of her life.
She was a part of Girls State and she ended up at the Democrat convention and met Carl Albert the Oklahoma Congressman who was the Speaker of the House. She later interned with him. Vicki went to law school at Howard University. She went on to work for the United States Justice Department and decided she wanted to work for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oklahoma City, but was denied. Dejected she walked across the street to the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office headed by Bob Macy. Despite no appointment she sat waiting for a chance to meet him. When he finally came out of his office, she introduced herself. She became an assistant district attorney where she concentrated on sex crimes.
Several years later State Senator Melvin Porter announced he was not going to run for re-election. She filed immediately and despite his earlier plans, Porter decided 22 years was not enough and decided to run for his seat again. Using a manual from the Women’s Education Fund on how to run for office she put together a plan to win the race and through strategic and targeted efforts beat the powerful legislator. She put together a good legislative agenda and despite the politics of the day she was able to help women needing assistance with pre-natal care and minority hiring at the state. Both bills received heavy opposition and only passed after a lot of hard work by Miles-LaGrange.
She then began her career of professional firsts. First African American woman elected to the state senate and later picked by President Bill Clinton to be first African American woman to be an U.S. Attorney for the western district in 1993. In 1994, he picked her to be the first African American U.S. District Judge in the United States. In her judicial career she was known as calm, deliberate and professional. This was a lifelong goal of hers. For people to look past her gender and race and see the person inside her.
For most people the next two decades would have been the apex of any career. But, not Vicki, she had interest outside of Oklahoma and the United States. Her distinguished career included prosecuting sex crimes and Nazi war criminals. About the time she first became a judge one of the world’s most horrific events was occurring in Rwanda. The African nation was the scene of the bloody genocide of ethnic groups. In a short period of time 1 million people were slaughtered. In the aftermath of what can only be described as Hell on earth, police and security forces fled for their lives. Judges, prosecutors and lawyers were rounded up and killed. Part of the problem with Rwanda was the corrupt form of justice. Partisan, cruel and unjust, the system did not resemble any modern justice system. The world was late responding to the crisis and the United States was busy in Bosnia trying to head off genocide in that civil war. Vicki took part in the judicial reform effort to remedy the long-standing problem in Rwanda. Vicki advocated only an independent judiciary could address the root problems of a system that was corrupt and biased. The effort started in 1999 lasting until 2005 when Vicki was part of an international group of legal experts sent to reform the Rwandan system. In the end, she went to Rwanda, Liberia, and Ghana to improve the legal systems in those countries. She made 8 trips often at great personal risk to continue her selfless attempt to make the world a better place.
Her work did not escape notice in her home state of Oklahoma. In 2006, she was awarded the Fern Holland Courageous Lawyer Award from the Oklahoma Bar Association. Holland, like Miles-LaGrange, worked in dangerous parts of the world to work for peace and justice. Holland was killed in Iraq trying to bring peace to that war-torn area. Vicki was also inducted in the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma African-American Hall of Fame, and Child Advocates Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Bar Association Woman Trailblazer Award and Legislator of the Year. Her board work is extensive and long.
It is unclear what Vicki Miles-LaGrange is going to do. Her Mother is nearly 100 years old and she has reported she wants to spend time with her. Vicki has earned the right to rest and enjoy her life. She is a model of a life well lived and of significant consequence.