DC Superior Court Judge Stephen Eilperin dies at 84

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Stephen F. Eilperin, a DC Superior Court judge from 1983 to 2019 who brought media attention to his decision in a case awarding custody of an adopted child to same-sex adoptive parents over extended family child, died June 9 at a Bethesda hospital. , Md. He was 84 years old.

The cause was heart disease, said his daughter Juliet Eilperin, associate climate and environment editor at The Washington Post.

As a young attorney, Judge Eilperin worked on a team with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that wrote congressional speeches advocating for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He was present at the signing of the law and received one of the pens used by the president. Lyndon B. Johnson to sign historic civil rights legislation.

After working in private practice, he joined the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1975 as Assistant General Counsel, then as an attorney and administrative judge. In 1983, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the DC Superior Court, the trial court overseeing the city’s civil, criminal, family, probate, tax, landlord and tenant, and traffic cases. and he was an associate judge before he was elevated. to senior status in 1998.

One of his most high-profile decisions involved custody of a 4-year-old black child identified as “TJ.” The child, whose mother had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, had been placed in foster care for a year before going to foster parents, a white lesbian couple. When they filed for official adoption, TJ’s great-aunt launched a lawsuit.

Judge Eilperin favored the couple, explaining that in their care the child had shown remarkable vocabulary growth, his outbursts of rage had subsided and he was involved in youth sports. The judge, whose decision was reported by the Legal Times publication, described TJ as a “surprisingly happy, active and normal (though still at risk) little boy”.

“Essentially, for the proper development of a child,” the judge wrote“race, gender, extended family and everything else is subordinated to the fundamental importance of attaching oneself very early to a person considered fundamentally different from all others and irreplaceable”.

The judge called the great-aunt a “kind and loving 60-year-old woman who has raised eight of her own children and is raising TJ’s 12-year-old half-sister.” Offering his ‘deeply felt regrets’ to the great-aunt and her family, he urged them to ‘shower TJ with all the love that my decision allows and their hearts hold’.

His decision received support from Rita Simon, a law professor at the American University who specializes in transracial adoptions. “While families who adopt across racial lines aren’t special at first, they become special over the years,” she said. told the Chicago Tribune. “What they learn is that they are not just adopting a child, but a set of traditions, customs, history, and that they feel responsible for helping the children understand that history. and this legacy.”

The ruling, which was later overturned, struck a chord with Judge Eilperin, who lost his own father at age 3 and is ‘doing everything possible to prevent this little boy from suffering a similar fate’, his daughter said. .

Judge Eilperin was a “sensitive and empathetic person,” according to DC Superior Court Senior Judge Frederick H. Weisberg, who “always thought about the impact of his rulings on the people behind legal disputes. which he was responsible for solving”.

Stephen Francis Eilperin was born in Brooklyn on October 25, 1937 and grew up in Manhattan. His father owned a small business. After being widowed, her mother worked as an Internal Revenue Service clerk.

A scholarship holder, he graduated in 1959 from Columbia University and in 1963 from Columbia Law School, where he was editor of the law review. After a judicial internship, he worked at the Ministry of Justice from 1964 to 1966.

His first marriage, to Sophie Cook, ended in divorce. In 1998, he married Michelle Hester. In addition to his wife, of Washington, survivors include two children from his first marriage, Juliet Eilperin of Washington and Michael Demos of Brooklyn; two stepchildren, Laurel Hester of Alexandria, Virginia, and Megan Hester of Brooklyn; and nine grandchildren.

Throughout his rulings, Judge Eilperin emphasized flexibility, as he discussed in a 1983 Daily Washington Law Reporter opinion.

“Sentencing is difficult and unpleasant for a judge; even more for the defendant,” he wrote. “The judge knows little about the person standing before him – informed by the trial (if there was one), a pre-sentence report and a short conversation at the time of sentencing; rarely anything else. Based on this brief acquaintance and the resources society makes available, the judge should issue a sentence that will benefit the accused and the community.

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