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Judge Stephanie M. Sawyer

Founder, Board Chair, and CEO

Stephanie M. Sawyer was born in Queens, New York, but since childhood has made the City of Philadelphia her home. Growing up in Philadelphia, she attended J.R. Masterman and Philadelphia High School for Girls, receiving her education from the city's public school system. She went on to earn her undergraduate and law degrees from Temple University, firmly establishing her roots in the city. As a single parent, Judge Sawyer draws inspiration from her own upbringing by a single parent, instilling in her a strong sense of community commitment and the value of hard work as the path to success.

Currently serving as a Court of Common Pleas Judge in the Criminal Trial Division, Judge Sawyer previously held the position of Municipal Court Judge in Philadelphia County. Her judicial nomination was confirmed by the state senate on June 30, 2014, and she was sworn in on July 16, 2014. Prior to her judicial appointment, she ran her own law office in Center City for nearly two decades. To truly understand Judge Sawyer's character, it is essential to recognize the significant influence her mother, Mrs. Sawyer, has had on her life.

Mrs. Sawyer, raised in Harlem, New York, faced numerous challenges throughout her life. Despite losing her mother at the age of three, her father passing away just a week before her wedding, and her husband leaving her after 13 years of marriage as the sole-provider for four children, she demonstrated unwavering dedication and resilience. At the age of 33, Mrs. Sawyer returned to college at Hunter College, working multiple jobs to ensure her children could attend Catholic School due to the inadequate public school options in New York. After earning her undergraduate degree from Hunter, she relocated to Philadelphia in the mid-1970s to pursue a partial scholarship at The Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania. Following her graduation, Mrs. Sawyer received numerous corporate offers, leveraging her dual identity as an African-American woman. However, she decided to bring her expertise to the oldest Historically Black College (HBC) in the country, Cheyney University, where she served as an economics professor for nearly three decades.

Mrs. Sawyer's commitment to hard work and community service extended beyond her academic pursuits. She opened her home to homeless students during summers, ensuring they could complete their studies. She also served as a legislative assistant for former City Councilperson Augusta Clark and actively contributed to community-based initiatives alongside public servants such as David Richardson and Dwight Evans. Even at 84 years old, Mrs. Sawyer continues to make a positive impact on the community, employing individuals who would otherwise be considered unemployable and rehabilitating homes in Philadelphia's Germantown area.

Growing up under the guidance of her remarkable mother, Judge Sawyer witnessed firsthand the impact of determination and resilience. At the age of nine, she became frustrated by the injustices she observed and made the decision to become a lawyer to combat unfairness within the judicial system. Starting at the age of 14, she worked alongside her mother, helping care for her siblings. With unwavering determination to pursue a legal education, Judge Sawyer began college at 16 while simultaneously holding two to three jobs to qualify for acceptance into Temple University's School of Law. She continued to work tirelessly throughout her academic journey, taking on various roles such as a first-grade teacher, private tutor, waitress, and bartender in North Philadelphia.

During her time in law school, Judge Sawyer dedicated herself to giving back to the community. She actively participated in Temple's Law, Education, and Participation (LEAP) Program, where law students volunteered to teach high school students about the law. Additionally, she organized mock trial competitions, providing an opportunity for students to engage in a fictitious case and develop essential trial skills. Judge Sawyer deliberately chose to target schools with a focus on inspiring young minds who may not have believed in their own potential, such as Ben Franklin, Germantown, and King High Schools.

In her private practice, Judge Sawyer demonstrated a deep commitment to community engagement. She organized free legal seminars for community and church-based organizations, providing individuals with access to legal advice and answers to their questions. Additionally, she offered internships to students and individuals who had previously faced disenfranchisement, helping them develop skills and acquire recommendations that were instrumental in their future employment.

Early in her legal career, while still a law student, Judge Sawyer gained invaluable experience through internships with various organizations, including the District Attorney's Office, Public Defender's Office, a sole practitioner, and the Law Department for the City of Philadelphia. After graduating in 1991, she became an Assistant City Solicitor in Philadelphia's Law Department, honing her skills as an exceptional litigator. During her five-year tenure, she successfully negotiated resolutions for numerous personal injury claims, conducted a multitude of depositions, and achieved victories in hundreds of arbitrations, hearings, and trials in both state and federal courts.

While practicing law in the public sector had its rewards, Judge Sawyer desired a more personal level of impact on people's lives. Driven by her passion for advocating for the rights of ordinary individuals in her community, she established her own law office in 1996. Throughout her practice, she fought tirelessly for fairness in Family Law, Criminal Law, Employment Discrimination Law, and Personal Injury Law. Upon her transition from lawyer to judge in 2014, she immediately began working on implementing a form of Restorative Justice, focusing on changes in sentencing and supervision. Her approach, known as Resource-Based Sentencing & Supervision, involves leveraging existing nonprofit organizations and social services to reduce recidivism rates. Judge Sawyer has dedicated herself to developing and expanding this innovative method, fostering a fair and reliable judicial system that every Philadelphian can trust.

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