Aerlex Law Group

Alum Stephen Hofer: More than an ‘Aviation Attorney to the Stars’ (Part 1 of 3)

Alum Stephen Hofer: More than an ‘Aviation Attorney to the Stars’

Profile Written By
Deborah Galyan

Editor’s Note:  Recently, the Indiana University Alumni Association published a profile on Aerlex founder and President Stephen Hofer, entitled, “Alum Stephen Hofer: More than an ‘Aviation Attorney to the Stars’.”  The Hofer profile was a companion piece to an article that appeared in the Fall 2023 edition of the Indiana University Alumni Magazine regarding Steve’s role as trustee of the Dunn Family Cemetery on the IU campus in Bloomington, Indiana, and Aerlex previously reprinted that article on the firm’s website.  We now present, in three parts, the Hofer profile written by Deborah Galyan, and hope you will find it to be an interesting and insightful look at the attorney who has guided Aerlex’s legal practice for nearly 20 years.

A person known as the “aviation attorney to the stars” could—for that reason alone—be worth getting to know. Stephen Hofer, BA’76, is that Los Angeles-based attorney, but his life story offers many more compelling chapters: his role in the turbulent campus politics of the Vietnam era, an early and accomplished tenure in journalism, a shocking visit to the IU registrar’s office, time well spent on a Hollywood game show, a historic moment with Bobby Knight at the 1984 Summer Olympics, and, back at IU, his unique role related to Dunn Cemetery, the quiet spot on the Bloomington campus that has a compelling story of its own.

Boy Wonder

Long before Hollywood and aviation law entered his life, Hofer was a high achiever through grade school and at Madison Heights High School in Anderson, Ind. He loved English, history, government, and, especially, journalism.

You could say his reporting career launched in fifth grade, when he began going door to door, interviewing neighbors and writing stories about the latest developments in their lives. From there, he created his own neighborhood newspaper, The Park Road Spy. With the help of his father, who had access to a mimeograph machine (a low-cost duplicating machine), he went into publishing.

“Dad would run off the copies at work and I would get on my bike and deliver them around the neighborhood to my 40 or 50 subscribers,” he recalls. Yes, he had subscribers.

Hofer was a natural leader, serving as student body president at Madison Heights, then statewide president for the Indiana Association of Student Councils, and ultimately earning an award as Most Outstanding Teenage Boy of 1968 at a national conference held in Honolulu.

“I was always a talkative little kid,” he says. “I assumed—and everybody around me pretty much assumed—that I would either be a lawyer or a journalist one day.”

Stephen Hofer, at the Indiana Memorial Union on the IUB campus, is based on the West Coast but returns to Indiana periodically. Reflecting on the value of an IU education, Hofer says: “Students coming to Bloomington from small towns in the Midwest, as I did years ago, will find themselves suddenly exposed to the whole world. It was beyond my imagination at first—art, culture, languages—a thousand possibilities just washing over you.” Photo by Marc Lebryk.

An Education Troubled by War

Hofer began his studies at IU Bloomington in the fall of 1968. He dove into college life—majoring in political science and journalism and juggling coursework with a hefty involvement in student government while keeping pace with his Phi Kappa Theta fraternity brothers.

Like campuses across the nation, IU Bloomington was a hub of activism in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

“It’s difficult to convey what an extraordinary time that was in American educational history,” Hofer says. “This wasn’t the experience I was expecting to encounter when I went away to college, but it was the times that were thrust upon us.”

In 1970, Keith Parker, ’71, an antiwar activist and member of the Black Panther Party, was elected IUB’s student body president. Parker’s vice president was Mike King, BA’71, a member of  Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, and the editor of an influential local underground newspaper, The Spectator. They ran for office with aspirations of fighting for racial justice and stopping the war in Vietnam through student activism.

Parker and King presided over IU Student Senate meetings, where Hofer served as senate clerk, recording minutes that evoked the galvanizing issues of the day: the war, the draft, civil rights, and women’s rights, along with campus-based proposals for a student legal aid office and a daycare center.

That year, Hofer played a role in what was arguably the most radical student government in IU’s history.

“If you weren’t there, you really can’t appreciate the depth of emotion students were feeling about everything going on at that time,” Hofer says. “The Vietnam War and the loss of thousands of young lives, growing anti-war sentiment, the splintering of the civil rights movement into violent and non-violent factions, and the King and Kennedy assassinations—all of these left gaping wounds in the national psyche. The students were motivated by deeply held feelings.”

‘Consorting with the Enemy’

In 1971, Parker selected Hofer to chair the Student Legislative Coordinating Committee, or SLCC, an organization intended to create a bridge between IU student government and the Indiana state legislature. Both knew that Hofer’s more moderate voice would be better received in the Statehouse.

Working within the system was viewed by many students of the day as “consorting with the enemy,” but Hofer saw the benefits clearly. His task was to identify and organize a group of students, ideally from all parts of Indiana, to represent “the best of IU” to Indiana lawmakers. The stakes were high, given that Indiana legislators, like many across the nation, were troubled about the “radicalization” of college campuses and were threatening to make cuts to university’s funding.

“We were the lobbying arm of the student government, acting on behalf of the student body,” Hofer explains. The goal, he says, was to convey a message to the legislators that the university was deserving of funding, and that significant cuts would have a negative effect on students, the quality of instruction, and ultimately IU’s regional and national reputations.

He assembled a group of 25 polished, well-informed student lobbyists who worked well with campus administration. Among the group was a bright political science major named Jane Pauley, BA’72, LHD’96, whose future would include a tenure as host of NBC’s Today Show.

“Of all the things I did while in student government, my work as chair of the SLCC makes me the proudest,” he says. “The fact that IU actually received higher funding from the legislature in 1971 and that there was no fee increase that year, despite everything that was happening on campus, suggests that our efforts were very successful.”

Hofer, at Dunn Cemetery on the IUB campus, serves as the cemetery’s genealogical curator, determining the eligibility of individuals who petition for burial. Photo by Marc Lebryk.

The Upside of Defeat

That same year, Hofer made a run for IU student body president amid a chaotic field of candidates. The traditional political parties, based primarily in the dorms and the Greek system, had splintered into fractious coalitions, leaving more than a dozen candidates with hats in the ring. Hofer worked hard to win. “I had always planned to run, and by that time, I knew everybody in IU student government,” he says.

He lost to Mary (Scifres) Grabianowski, BA’79, MS’92, the first woman to be elected to that office. It was a history-making moment for IU, the significance of which Hofer understood, despite personal defeat.

“Losing the student body president election turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me at IU,” he says. “It helped me regain a sense of balance and humility that I really needed in my life at that time.”

[This concludes part one of three.  Watch for part two next week.]

Written By
Deborah Galyan
Deborah Galyan, BA’77, is a freelance writer. She served as executive director of communications and marketing for the IU College of Arts and Sciences from 2012 to 2022.