W. Rideout: Judge, Advocate for Children
July 25, 2007
by Nina Tisara
Rideout retired Chief
Judge of the Alexandria
Juvenile and Domestic
Rideout is the third of 12 Living Legends for
2007 whose lives will be chronicled in the
Alexandria Gazette Packet, this year. They are
being chosen from the list of 49 people
nominated by you. Living Legends of Alexandria
will be an ongoing project that documents the
lives of individuals who have made tangible
contributions to the quality of life in
Steve Rideout became Chief Judge of the
Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations
District Court in 1989. "I loved it from
the day I walked in," he recalled recently.
Rideout happened into law school almost by
accident. When he finished Washington and Lee
University in 1965, still unsure of what he
wanted to do, he went on to W&L Law School,
earning his LLB in 1968. He was an average
student who did not find the law easy. Then came
a clerkship with Judge George L. Hart Jr. in the
U.S. District Court for the District of
Columbia. "I got to go to court every day,
and afterwards we’d dissect the cases and the
performance of the lawyers, so it was a great
learning experience for me in becoming a trial
lawyer. And I knew right away I wanted to be a
As his career progressed, he took steps that
would take him in that direction, though there
were detours on the path. When the clerkship
ended, he went into private practice in
Alexandria. In his second case, he defended a
Lorton prisoner who had killed another Lorton
prisoner. When the man was convicted, Rideout
felt he had failed, as he believed the man had
acted in self-defense.
"I stopped practicing and went to work for
the federal government." After six months
of being bored, however, he returned to private
practice, working in the law building at 117 N.
Fairfax Street in Alexandria. The building was
filled with lawyers and Rideout saw this as
another learning opportunity. "Every door
was open. Whenever you needed help, the lawyers
were open to talk, discuss strategy."
Years later, he became a substitute magistrate
and in 1983, a substitute judge in the General
District Court and the Juvenile and Domestic
Relations Court. "In the process, I learned
how to be a better lawyer — what worked and
what didn’t — and it also firmed up in my
mind that being a judge was my career
In 1988, he was appointed Chief Judge of the
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. The clerk
of the court was Phyllis Brown, who by then had
served for more than 30 years. "She is the
most fabulous manager of people and systems that
I’ve ever come across," Rideout said,
"and she trained me."
The person who replaced Brown was Arlene Rager,
whose talents approached those of her
predecessor, Rideout said. "We were a great
Rager remembers him as "the best boss I
ever had." He was a leader in foster care
and child adoption and started the practice of
Adoption Saturdays in Alexandria. Twice a year,
she remembered, the adoptions of children who
had come through the court system were
formalized at a court proceeding followed by a
AS CHIEF (and only) judge of the juvenile court,
Rideout regularly worked 11-hour days, often
skipping lunch. It was the era of the crack
cocaine epidemic. The Northern Virginia Juvenile
Detention Facility was overcrowded, shelter care
was underutilized, and he saw masses of
juveniles coming back repeatedly.
"It was clear to me we should stop what we
were doing and look at how we could respond to
their behavior to hold them accountable, to help
them and their families and still keep our
community safe — but not just keep locking
these kids up," Rideout said.
"We figured that if we could take 200 kids,
who cost the system, back then, an average of
$50,000 a year, out of state facilities, and
take that $10 million in savings and give it to
the communities for effective preventive
programming, it would make a huge
In 1994, Judge Nolan Dawkins joined the Juvenile
and Domestic Relations Court as a second judge.
With a little more time, Rideout began asking
people in the community for ideas on how to
improve the system. He’d heard about the Model
Court system, and in late 1995, they began to
create a Model Court for Alexandria. Dawkins
said Alexandria was perhaps the 13th Model Court
in the United States — today there are some
32, and they have jurisdiction over about 50
percent of the children in foster care
The building of Alexandria’s model court
system was the beginning of Rideout’s second
calling. Besides being a judge, he became a
powerful advocate for children.
Dawkins described Rideout as "excellent to
work with. We were always on the same page in
how we approached a subject, even though we did
not always agree." Though Rideout retired
in 2004, they still lunch together once a month.
"Although he retired from the bench, Judge
Rideout never retired from his commitment to the
best interests of children here and around the
country," Dawkins said.
Lillian Brooks, director of court services for
the Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations
Court, runs the juvenile probation department
and the services that support the court. Court
services has a staff of 35, including probation
officers, mental health therapists and people
who run programs at the Day Reporting Center,
where children can be ordered to report after
school if they have no structure at home or need
tutoring. The Center offers educational programs
to young people, and parenting programs for
those whose children are on probation.
Brooks said when Rideout came on the bench,
there were very few programs for youths in the
court system. "We worked very closely
together to craft new programs that addressed
the problem of truancy among at-risk children. A
lot of the improvements would not have happened
without his grass roots involvement and
advocacy," Brooks said. "His
persistence got people to stop turf fighting and
finger pointing and work together."
Rideout and Dawkins also instituted a family
treatment drug court in 2001. Dawkins said it
was the first in the state and "remains
perhaps the largest one." This court
provides family treatment to parents whose
children have been removed from them and placed
in foster care.
Debra Collins, director of Human Services for
the City of Alexandria, met Judge Rideout when
she worked for the Model Court in Buffalo.
"He has a broad national reputation,"
she said. She notes his role in reducing the
time of children in the dependency courts,
making sure they have permanency as soon as
Vicki Youcha, executive director of the Center
for Alexandria’s Children, said she first knew
Rideout through the National Council of Juvenile
and Family Court Judges. She was working for the
organization Zero To Three, trying to improve
outcomes for maltreated infants and toddlers.
"Steve listens. He’s really great at
bringing together people and getting them to
work together differently to reach a solution.
You can’t divert him from the goal … and
he’s not afraid to have a big vision, to see
things differently than they are now."
Diane Charles, executive director of Stop Child
Abuse Now (SCAN) of Northern Virginia, said,
"Judge Rideout has been probably the
strongest advocate for children, on and off the
bench, in the City of Alexandria." SCAN
runs the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)
program. CASA only succeeds, Charles said,
"if the local juvenile judge supports and
uses it." Rideout, she said, "always
wanted more information so he could make the
best decision for the children."
RIDEOUT, NOW RETIRED from being a judge, still
travels the country advocating, teaching and
training courts and personnel in other
communities to adopt best practices in juvenile
and domestic relations courts. Here in
Alexandria, he helped found, and remains
volunteer co-chair of, the Coalition for
Alexandria’s Youngest Children, which focuses
on assisting children age 0–5. His co-chair
there is Deborah Warren, director of Child,
Family and Prevention Services at the Alexandria
Community Services Board. Rideout, she says, is
utterly passionate about the coalition’s work.
"The reason I left the bench," Rideout
said, "was that I felt as though I was
called to take what I learned from this
community and all the judges across the country
and convey it to the rest of the country. I’m
seeing just miraculous change in how communities
can improve their systems to achieve better
results for children and families. That’s what
I hope to keep doing."
Rideout is married to Bobbie M. Rideout. They
have two children and three grandchildren.
"Living Legends of Alexandria" is a
project of the Rotary Club of Alexandria in
partnership with the Alexandria Gazette Packet.
Nina Tisara is Project Director.