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Oklahoma County judge remembered for impact on juvenile system


An Oklahoma County district judge is being remembered for changing the lives of innumerable children in the juvenile justice system.

Judge Lisa Tipping Davis died Sunday morning after an 11-year battle with a recurring form of sarcoma cancer. She was 59.

Davis was appointed an Oklahoma County district judge in 2009 and most recently served as the chief judge of the Oklahoma County Juvenile Justice Center.

Retired District Judge Patricia Parrish praised Davis as a transformational figure at the juvenile center. Creating a more efficient juvenile court became a principal goal for Davis, Parrish’s best friend and Oklahoma County District Court colleague.

“It was always about improving the system,” Parrish said. “I don’t think we will ever understand how much of a difference she made in so many kids’ lives and the effect she had not only on them but for generations to come to just break that cycle of whatever it might be that causes children to be involved in the (Department of Human Services) system.”

Davis was chosen in 2014 to be chief juvenile judge, a role she maintained until 2017 and returned to in January. Before the judiciary, she worked as an assistant attorney general and general counsel to Gov. Brad Henry.

Davis never expected juvenile justice to be a part of her career, said Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Noma Gurich. But, much like she approached her illness, she “always was ready for the challenge.”

“There are people that come along in your life that you engage with that are just remarkable. You know that you’re never going to meet someone like that again,” Gurich said. “She was just this spirit. She was the drive, she was the energy. Things were going to be different in a better way. You just felt so secure knowing that she was in charge.”

Oklahoma County Presiding Judge Thomas Prince credited Davis with widespread improvements to the juvenile justice center.

She helped develop new programs for children and families, such as the Program for Female Youth on Probation, the Safe Baby Project, the Road to Independence Program and the Citizens for Children and Families organization.

Her position came with a heavy caseload and long days on the bench, Prince said. However, Davis was known for her organizational skills that prepared her to make an impact beyond the daily docket of cases.

“It’s a big loss,” Prince said. “She made the juvenile justice center better. The family drug court runs better because of her, the food pantry, the clothes closet, the docket. They all run better.”

Davis was renowned not only for her dedication to progress, but also for her ability to inspire it in others.

Former Lt. Gov. Jari Askins saw it first-hand at Davis’ quarterly meetings at the juvenile center. Askins facilitated group meetings with Davis to gather all the entities working with the state’s neglected and deprived children.

Davis emphasized collaboration among the group, which included public defenders, assistant district attorneys and family care providers. She pushed the group to find solutions to the long-term obstacles affecting the juvenile justice system.

“She just felt that everybody needed to be pulling in the same direction, which was the best interest of the children,” Askins said. “I could see the buy-in of the other court team members into understanding that they all had to see the same vision, and she would task them with deciding how can we improve this process.”

Throughout her career as a judge, Davis refused to let cancer treatment affect her performance in the courtroom, Parrish said. Each time her cancer reappeared, she balanced chemotherapy and surgeries with the work required to handle her regular caseload.

She kept her eyes toward progress, not on past achievements, said Judge Barbara Swinton, of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.

“She was always looking towards the next goal that she had in mind,” Swinton said. “I think that came across in her battle with cancer. She wasn’t about the disease. It was about fighting the next fight.”

A celebration of life for Davis will take place at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at First Christian Church in Edmond.

Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel joined The Oklahoman in 2019. She found a home at the newspaper while interning in summer 2016 and 2017. Nuria returned to The Oklahoman for a third time after working a year and a half at the Sedalia Democrat in Sedalia,... Read more ›