Tom Colbert (born December 30, 1949) is an Associate Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. He was appointed to the Court's District 6 seat in 2004, by Governor Brad Henry, becoming the first African-American to serve on the court. On January 4, 2013, he was sworn in as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and served In that post until January 2015. After completing his two-year term as Chief Justice, he resumed his previous position on the court as Associate Justice representing the 6th Judicial District.
Colbert was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and graduated from high school in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. His educational background includes an associate degree from Eastern Oklahoma State College, and a Bachelor of Science degree from Kentucky State University in 1973. After completing his service in the U.S. Army, he enrolled in Eastern Kentucky University, where he earned a master's degree in Health Education, then moved to Chicago to begin teaching in the public schools.
He soon moved back to Oklahoma, where he entered the University of Oklahoma College of Law, and earned and a Juris Doctor degree in 1982. He was then hired as assistant dean at Marquette University Law School, where he worked until 1984.
Career in law
In between his attendance at EKU and OU, he served in the Criminal Investigation Division of the United States Army. Following graduation from law school in 1982, he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to accept the post of Assistant Dean of Marquette University Law School, serving until 1984. Returning to Oklahoma in 1984, he was appointed as an Assistant District Attorney in Oklahoma County, serving in that capacity until 1986. He entered a private law practice in Oklahoma City in 1986. Over the next decade, he alternated between private practice and service as an attorney with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Between 1986 and 2000 he also served as assistant general counsel for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. From 1999 to 2004, he served as a Judge on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals and was the first African-American to serve on that Court. Colbert briefly served as Chief Judge of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals in 2004, then was appointed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court District 6 seat in 2004, by Governor Brad Henry, becoming the first African-American to serve on the court. On January 4, 2013, he was sworn in as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, replacing former Chief Justice Steven W. Taylor. After serving his two-year term as Chief Justice, he returned to his former status on the Supreme Court representing the 6th Judicial District.
Colbert is a member of the Tulsa Bar Association, the Oklahoma Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Bar Association.
- Colbert received the Tulsa Community College Service award in 2004.
- In 2005, he was inducted in the Eastern Oklahoma State College Hall of Fame, the Thurgood Marshall Award of Excellence and the OU Black Alumni Society—Trailblazer Award.
- In 2013, he received the Oklahoma City/ County Historical Society – Pathmaker Award and the Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Diversity Award.
- Tom Colbert was recognized by the University of Oklahoma College of Law as a Distinguished Alumnus at its March 2016 Order of the Owl Hall of Fame annual ceremony.
- Justice Tom Colbert was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame on November 16, 2017.
Very little has been published about Tom Colbert's personal life. One source revealed that he has a wife (nee Dorthea Guion) and three adult children. Another said that he was raised by a single mother, Edith Colbert, of Sapulpa.
During his swearing-in ceremony as Chief Justice, Colbert told the assembled guests that he had once considered resigning from the Oklahoma Supreme Court to pursue a more remunerative career as a private lawyer. He said that his wife and mother talked him out of the idea, saying that he would be letting down so many other people who had made sacrifices so that he could attain such an influential position.