- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

MARION, Ark. (AP) - Judge Tonya Alexander is the first African-American female judge to serve in Division Six of the state’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Court, but that isn’t what she wants to be remembered for.

The seat came open in 2016 after outgoing Judge Victor Hill decided not to run for re-election. Hill’s former disciple decided it was her time to step up.

Alexander defeated Curtis Walker Jr. in the general election, The Jonesboro Sun reports (https://bit.ly/2jgUdnq ). During Alexander’s campaign, the hashtags #Let’sMakeHistory and #1stAfricanAmericanFemaleJudgeInDivision6 was used to emphasize the historical value of having her in office.

“It means hope for a younger generation of girls who are coming and who are watching,” Alexander said. “It shows how far we have come. I always believed if you are competent and if you are professional, you can do anything you want to do as long as you trust God.”

Alexander said she doesn’t want those details to define her time as judge.

“The African American part wasn’t as important to me as to the others who were working on my campaign,” Alexander said. “I wanted the job because I want to do well and wanted to do right by people. I want people to think there is a chance for me when they walk into the courtroom because they are on equal footing. For those who don’t think their pleas are being heard, I want everyone to come in on an even-playing field.”

Alexander was born in Pine Bluff and raised in Altheimer. During her time in The Delta she witnessed something that would influence her career decision.

“As a little girl between the ages of 7 and 9, I recall a young man who was friends with my brother was arrested by the police because a Caucasian female at the local bank said he whistled at her. I remember thinking how can this be right.”

Alexander received her undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1991. She studied law at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Her first job out of law school was with East Arkansas Legal Services. She was assigned to the West Helena office where Hill was her supervisor.

“We got along great,” Alexander said. “I thought he was one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people that I have ever met. Having come from a small town, you have a different perception of an economically depressed area like Helena. The racial divide, I had never seen the way it was. We worked with the poorest of the poor, and it was he who helped me develop compassion toward the plight of others. A lot of it’s not coming in judgmental and just showing that you care about people.”

Alexander said Hill’s actions taught her how important her job was.

“I saw that he mentored the young kids,” Alexander said. “I saw that the kids looked up to us. To them we were lawyer Hill or lawyer Alexander when I was just Tonya. I realized to much is given, much is required. I learned I had to give back.”

In 1996 Alexander served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Olly Neal on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. She said she learned several life lessons under Neal.

“Neal taught me to use common sense and always study,” Alexander said. “Never abandon compassion. Neal also taught me to always be honest with other judges and attorneys. We are a large profession but a small community and we talk. If you lie to one, you might as well lie to everybody else.”

Neal also taught her to not take up a political call but to just do her job.

“He said you have been black long enough to know that you are black,” Alexander said. “Basically, do you come in with a whisper or do you come in with a roar? You have a tendency to want to change the world when you first start, but you can effectively make change by just doing what you have to do and doing it the right way. Most times you can get things done when you engage each other.”

After working for two judges Alexander became restless.

“There is only so much research you can do,” Alexander said. “I wanted to get out and practice law. I felt a call back to eastern Arkansas. There was an office that was unoccupied in West Memphis, and I said ‘I will take it.’”

For the past 16 years Alexander has worked as a solo practitioner in her private practice, but in 2015 she felt another calling.

“That call comes from God,” Alexander said. “I believe my steps have been ordered by God. When I look back at everything I have done, it was ordered by God.”

Alexander said the new job will require making some changes.

“I have always been accessible,” Alexander said. “People could come to the office just to talk. Sometimes people just want someone to hear them out. Now I am a little bit isolated and I can’t give out advice and I don’t see as many people.”

Even with the new title, Alexander she wants people to know she will still be the same person.

“One of the best things I was told was that your name is not judge, that is just a position that you occupy; your name is Tonya,” Alexander said. “I have people who see me now and say ‘hello judge’ or ‘hey judge’ and I have to tell them to stop. That’s not me and that will never be me.”

Alexander said during her time as judge she wants to make sure court starts on time and that justice is served.

“I want to make sure punishments fit the crime,” Alexander said. “I need people to understand that there is a presumption of innocence when you appear before the court. Just because you are arrested or charged doesn’t mean you are guilty. I want to improve the public perception of the judiciary system. I want to explain to the public when cases get dismissed and why it happened.”

___

Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide