Jimmie Edwards Receives Rehnquist Award
Circuit Court Judge Jimmie Edwards (’81) has a lifelong connection to the city of St. Louis.
He grew up in the city, attended Saint Louis University and SLU LAW, practiced law here and is now the Chief Juvenile Court Judge for the city of St. Louis.
“I didn’t get out of Saint Louis until I was 22 years old,” Edwards joked. “Everything good that has happened to me has occurred in St. Louis.”
Something good happened to him outside the Gateway City on Nov. 21. Edwards traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, which was presented to him by Chief Justice John Roberts.
“I’m very honored and at the same time humbled,” Edwards said of the honor. “This is one of the highest judicial awards in the country.”
The Rehnquist Award is just the latest in a slew of awards that have been bestowed upon Edwards in recent years, due largely to his humanitarian work in helping provide a second-chance for at-risk youth in St. Louis. Edwards founded the Innovative Concept Academy (ICA), a school overseen by the court system that provides rehabilitation and education to delinquent teens.
“Judge Edwards has dedicated his career to keeping students in school and out of the courtroom. His compassion, commitment and determination are making an overwhelmingly positive impact on the justice system – and in the lives of hundreds of families,” said Mary McQueen, president of the National Center for State Courts, which presents the Rehnquist Award. “Judge Edwards is accomplishing this by giving at-risk children dreams and helping them to achieve their dreams. NCSC is honored to have a judge of Judge Edwards’ character and accomplishments selected as this year’s Rehnquist Award recipient.”
Edwards has spent six of his 21 years on the bench working in juvenile court. He developed a theory that the troubled kids he saw coming through his courtroom could succeed and get an education under the right circumstances. Rather than locking them up, he puts them into ICA where they receive a full curriculum of math, science, English and history in addition to participating in extra-curricular activities that keep them off the streets. He estimates more than 1,000 kids have benefitted from ICA since it was founded in 2009.
“I certainly believe that judges embody the hopes of all. They embody the hopes of the defenseless,” Edwards said. “It’s because of that idea and those things that I believe that make me think even children who are poor, at risk or delinquent deserve a chance to better themselves.”
The only school of its kind in the country, ICA has garnered national attention from The Wall Street Journal, “The Today Show”, NPR and “CBS Evening News.” Additionally, Edwards was named a “Hero of the Year” by People magazine in 2011, using the $10,000 prize that accompanied the award to implement a new arts and drama program at ICA.
Growing up in the failed Pruitt-Igoe housing project, Edwards could have easily fallen into the same path as the kids that find their way into his courtroom. Inspired by his mother, he resolved to make something of himself, which he accomplished by attending Saint Louis University for both his undergraduate and law degrees.
“I’ve had a lot of things happen in my life and a lot of people that have been interested in my success,” Edwards said. “I had the great opportunity to attend SLU, where I really learned what it meant to do good for others. Saint Louis University taught me the need to give back.”
His work with ICA isn’t the only way Edwards has given back. SLU LAW Associate Professor Patricia Harrison, supervisor of the Youth Advocacy Clinic, said he has implemented several beneficial measures within his courtroom, such as requiring a psychiatrist be available to ensure mental health is addressed, changing the nature of the drug court to ensure only those with a real drug problem were admitted and requiring quicker court hearings.
“He insisted that only those who were a true threat to the community were held in detention pending trial,” Harrison said. “He understood a child's sense of time was more urgent and a quicker resolution to move forward was required.”
In addition to his work in the courtroom, Edwards has also found ways to give back to SLU LAW.
“Judge Edwards welcomed our child advocacy students into his courtroom and supported their efforts to learn and grow as future lawyers,” Harrison said. “He provided thoughtful feedback and spent quality time showing students how the courts worked and the services juvenile clients received while being held in detention.”
In recognition of his contributions to the legal profession, the School of Law honored Edwards in 2012 with the Black Law Student Association’s The Honorable Theodore McMillian Award. The accolades are great, Edwards said, but the biggest reward is knowing he is making a difference in kids’ lives.
“If I have done anything right, it has been to gather a lot of smart people together that care about children,” he said.