Chances are, anyone who gets arrested tonight in Buffalo will face Judge E. Jeannette Ogden, ’77, or one of her colleagues tomorrow in City Court. “No matter what you do,” said Ogden, “from traffic to murder, you’re going to see us first.
“This is a large part of what I do—the processing and disposition of criminal cases,” she said. Admin-istering justice is her way of helping others improve their lives and their communities by demanding personal accountability and providing opportunity for restitution, restoration, and rehabilitation.
As a child growing up in a crime-filled housing project, she realized education was her key to a better life. She followed her older sister to Buffalo State, even though she was undecided on her major. A class in criminal justice changed that, setting Ogden firmly on course toward the practice of law.
Ogden earned her undergraduate degree with the help of an academic scholarship and the Educational Opportunity Program. Her siblings also earned their degrees from Buffalo State. “Growing up in the projects showed us you must be determined to find a way out if you intend to succeed,” Ogden explained. “You learn to see the glass as half full, which represents hope. You don’t give up.”
Ogden went on to earn her juris doctor degree from the University at Buffalo Law School. She trained as a law clerk in the offices of Hargrave & McKelvey and served as a prosecutor with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. She also worked as a trial attorney for the CIGNA Insurance Company before opening her own practice. It was her broad-based experience in law that led to her appointment to City Court in 1995, and her work ethic that got her elected to the bench. Now, in her second elected 10-year term, Ogden handles criminal and civil cases. She also serves as the “back up” judge to the Buffalo City Mental Health Court.
In 2001, Ogden was appointed acting Erie County Court judge to handle all levels of criminal cases involving domestic violence. The appointment was expanded in 2003 to enable her to also serve as an Erie County Family Court judge, the first and only African American female ever to do so. Ogden continues to serve as needed and will serve one day a week in 2007 in Family Court, where she will preside over child custody and visitation cases.
Remaining fair, firm, and empathetic are not the hardest parts of her job, she said. It’s trying to obtain justice when information is lacking and resources are limited. “It’s reconciling the fact that law and justice are not always synonymous.” The law mandates that a certain result be reached based on facts. But the facts of a case may not always be apparent. Ongoing education in mental health and social issues is essential, Ogden believes.
Ogden credits Buffalo State with laying the groundwork for her accomplishments. There, she learned anger management and interpersonal relationship skills. “Education is what took me from the projects to City Court,” she said. “Buffalo State was the foundation, the springboard for becoming all I could be.”
Photo: KC Kratt