Former federal magistrate judge Stephen Williams says he’s happy to be back in a role where he’s fighting for clients, rather than serving as an impartial referee.
“One of the big things about transitioning back into practicing law after serving as a judge is that you have to reassume the role of an advocate,” Williams said. “Whether you’re doing criminal defense or civil practice, you’re acting as a representative in a case, rather than neutral. So you have to realign your mind to be in a position to do that.”
He added, “There’s obviously things about being a judge that are appealing to a lot of lawyers, but I did miss being an advocate very much.”
Stephen Williams Provided
Prior to his serving on the bench at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis, Williams served for six years as an assistant public defender in the same courthouse. Before that, he worked as a public defender in St. Louis and at a private law firm.
As a judge, Williams presided over more than 90 jury trials and handled countless discovery disputes in all manner of federal civil cases. His caseload included the high-profile $8 billion case against State Farm, where Williams ruled that Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier could give written answers to questions, rather than giving live testimony at a deposition. U.S. District Judge David Herndon later overturned that ruling, saying Karmeier should have to give live testimony.
Williams said being overruled by a district judge is common, just as district judges are overturned by appeals courts.
“That wasn’t the only time that happened in my eight years,” he said. “If you’re going to survive as a judge, you have to be prepared for, and comfortable with, the fact that others are going to disagree with your decisions.”
The case, which alleged that State Farm backed Karmeier’s election in order to get favorable rulings, was settled before Karmeier had to testify.
While serving as a public defender, Williams' clients included former lawyer Gary Peel, who was convicted of bankruptcy fraud and possession of child pornography – nude photos of his ex-wife’s sister, taken by Peel when she was 16.
Justin Kuehn, partner at Kuehn, Beasley & Young, said Williams will practice criminal and civil litigation in federal and state court, and serve as a mediator in civil disputes.
“It is a rare day that a lawyer with Steve’s experience and capabilities is on the open market,” Kuehn said. “We are both honored and thrilled that he chose to join our firm.”
About Stephen Williams:
Family: Married with two children; wife is a lawyer who works as a law clerk at Missouri Court of Appeals.
Law school: Southern Illinois University, graduated summa cum laude, No. 1 in class.
Military: Served four years in U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry officer, prior to law school.