Aerlex Law Group

Alum Stephen Hofer: More than an ‘Aviation Attorney to the Stars’ (Part 2 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.

Adrenaline Rush

In the spring of 1970, carrying a full load of classes and keeping up with the high drama of campus politics, Hofer took a part-time job at Bloomington’s Daily Herald-Telephone (now The Herald-Times), where his talents as a writer and manager were immediately on display.

“I would often cover municipal or other board meetings in the evenings, then come in on the weekends to put out both the Saturday and Sunday newspapers,” he says. “I got to know the Bloomington mayor and all the local politicians, and I learned how to put out a daily newspaper.”

Before long, he was thriving in the adrenaline-charged atmosphere of the newsroom. In May of 1972, he put college on hold and began working full time at the Daily Herald-Telephone. And then in October, he was named managing editor, a notoriously demanding role at any newspaper.

Suddenly, at age 22, Hofer was both the youngest person in the newsroom and managing editor, supervising a staff of some 20 editors, reporters, and photographers. An industry trade magazine reported that he was the youngest managing editor of a daily newspaper anywhere in the U.S.

He relished the work, and the H-T earned a reputation for editorial quality, winning the Hoosier State Press Association’s Blue Ribbon Award for outstanding daily newspaper and several other coveted awards.

Hofer, on the IUB campus at the statue of famed journalist Ernie Pyle, LHD’44, embarked on a journalistic career of his own while still an IU student. He had success, but the effort derailed his academic pursuits, at least for a time. Photo by Marc Lebryk.

A No Good, Very Bad Day

Hofer was making great strides in the career he had been training for at IU, but he still planned to earn his degree.

He vividly remembers a day in 1974 when he visited the Office of the Registrar to check on his academic status. Alums of the 1970s likely remember the registrar’s office, located in the old IU Library building—now the IU Media School. Back in the predigital age, the office had a Dickensian vibe, just slightly beyond quill pens and leather-bound ledgers. Students waited in long lines to ask questions or make requests. Staff would then pore over paper files to determine their academic fates.

He knew he had some incompletes, but he was shocked to learn the details.

“The staff person said, ‘Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with so many incompletes. Technically, these should have already turned into F’s, but since they haven’t, you get a break. You’ll need to talk to your professors and ask what you need to do to complete these classes,’” he recalls.

There was quite a lot at stake in his young life when he heard that news. Thoughts of law school—a second career path he had considered since boyhood—were now at risk.

Determined, he dropped back to one day a week at the H-T, tracked down his professors, and methodically worked his way through all the incompletes. He wrote papers, took final exams, and several professors required him to take entire courses over again. Today, he can’t quite recall the exact number of incompletes he resolved back then, but guesses it was somewhere in the ballpark of 12 to 15. He also re-enrolled and took several new classes.

“It took a year and a half, but that was my most enjoyable time at IU,” he recalls. “Actually, it was one of the best times of my entire life. When I finally embraced college and took the opportunity to simply learn, go to all my classes, interact with professors and classmates, and generally immerse myself in the educational experience, and enjoy all that it offered, it was a fabulous thing to do.”

Luckily, a benefit of spending additional years on campus in the mid-1970s was getting to experience men’s basketball history, culminating in the 1976 NCAA championship win. “I was a full-time student, and I was able to get student season tickets for IU basketball,” he says, with obvious delight. Hofer also wrote the front-page story for the Herald-Telephone about the celebrations on campus and around town that winning night. The story can still be found, to this day, hanging on the wall at BuffaLouie’s restaurant in Bloomington.

Luck in La La Land

After graduating from IU in 1976 with a double major in political science and journalism, Hofer worked as a writer and editor at the prestigious Miami Herald before committing to law school at Northwestern University, where he won the Lowden-Wigmore Prize for outstanding legal writing. Law degree in hand, he accepted a position with the distinguished Los Angeles firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in 1980, where his clients included the Los Angeles Times and the NBC broadcast network.

That summer, while he was settling into California life and preparing to start his new job, he remembered one of his IU fraternity brothers had once told him that he had a good memory for facts and trivia and would be a great game show contestant. The idea was all the more appealing when he thought of the student loan debt he had accumulated in law school.

What follows is almost too good to be true, even for a story set in La La Land.

Bullseye Game Show. Stephen Hofer, BA’76, was a new Californian in 1980 when he appeared on five episodes of Bullseye, a game show hosted by The Dating Game personality Jim Lange. Stephen won $28,650 in cash, which he used for a down payment on his first home, and prizes, including a trip to French Polynesia.

He pursued the idea and was invited to appear on a show called Bullseye, where he won $28,650 in cash over the course of two days, along with a trip to French Polynesia and an Apple computer. The money was enough to make a down payment on his first Los Angeles home. (He’s not the only IU alum with a game-show story—read them in Contestant Chronicles.)

All that, and yet, good fortune wasn’t quite finished with him. The day after his game-show triumphs, he learned that he had passed the California Bar Examination.

That night, he attended a party for the new recruits at his law firm who had passed the bar exam. “One of the Gibson Dunn partners came over to me. He knew that I’d won big on a game show on Thursday and Friday and then got admitted to the bar on Saturday. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Steve, not every week in LA is going to be this good.’”

[This concludes part two of three.  Watch for part three 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.