Aerlex Law Group

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

Gold Medal Memory

Hofer’s journalism background, wide-ranging curiosity, and sheer talent have taken him in some unexpected directions. One of Hofer’s most cherished career experiences began when Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Summer Olympics.

It all started when David Price, the chairman of American Golf Corporation (where Hofer would later work for nearly a decade as the chief legal officer) was appointed commissioner of basketball for the 1984 Games. Price invited Hofer to serve as venue press chief for the sport of basketball, and Hofer assembled a staff of 80 volunteers, including a contingent of IU journalism students, to support the media coming from around the world to cover the men’s and women’s tournaments. It was an opportunity that also put him back in touch with Hoosier basketball coach Bob Knight, who served as head coach of Team USA. The team featured an all-star roster that included IU’s own Steve Alford, BS’87.

Hofer was reviewing the history of Olympic basketball when he realized that quite a few of the U.S. players who had participated in the 1936 Berlin Games were still living in the Los Angeles area. In 1936, basketball was contested for the first time as an official medal sport and, by all accounts, the playing conditions in Berlin were far from ideal. The U.S. had defeated Canada for the gold medal in a steady downpour, slogging through thick mud on a clay and sand court. Presumably due to the nasty weather, no formal medal ceremony took place that day, which must have made even an Olympic victory feel somewhat anti-climactic. Hofer had an idea.

“I thought, why don’t we arrange to honor these players at the Los Angeles Olympics?” he recalls.

Coach Bob Knight, right, confers with players Scott May, BS’76, left, and Quinn Buckner, BS’76, during the 1975–76 season. The team won the national championship in undefeated fashion. “It was a special opportunity to have been coached by him, and an equally special opportunity to have him as a friend,” Buckner, current chair of the IU Board of Trustees, said soon after Knight’s death. Photo courtesy of IU Archives (P0020272).

Everyone—from the Olympic Organizing Committee to the television broadcasters to Coach Knight—loved it. The ceremony took place at halftime of a U.S. men’s game and was broadcast around the world. The players received special ceremonial medals to complement their original 1936 gold, and Knight invited them into the locker room, where they were greeted enthusiastically by Alford, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and other team members.

“Those moments with Coach Knight and the 1936 and 1984 Olympians gathered together was absolutely the highlight of my Olympic experience,” Hofer says, not an insignificant judgment since he also got to attend both the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1984 Olympic Games.

‘Aviation Attorney to the Stars’

In his chosen profession—aviation law—Hofer helps his clients navigate the entire aircraft acquisition process, including the complexities of aircraft ownership, taxes, management, and insurance, as well as esoteric Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

And many of his clients are notable. Hofer’s Los Angeles-based firm, Aerlex Law Group, founded in 2005, has represented a long list of A-listers from Hollywood, music, and sports, including Bono, Cher, Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Hopkins, Magic Johnson, Nicole Kidman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rod Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Keith Urban, Tiger Woods, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The client list has earned Hofer the moniker “aviation attorney to the stars,” and the firm’s work has earned him the respect of his peers, along with designation as a Southern California Super Lawyer accolade for 15 years in a row. The London-based Chambers and Partners, an independent legal research company, has ranked him as one of the 12 top aviation attorneys in the world for eight consecutive years.

Of course, Hofer has quite a few celebrity anecdotes, only some of which he can share due to attorney-client confidentiality obligations.

“If Andy Warhol was correct, my 15 minutes of fame was when I was able to announce that the FAA had decided not to take any action against one of my clients, who had mistakenly landed on a taxiway when he was supposed to land on a runway.” Hofer attempts discretion, but the incident and the client are too well-known. The client was Harrison Ford, aka Han Solo, the legendary Millennium Falcon pilot of the Star Wars films.

Ford had already been at the center of several highly publicized series of aviation mishaps when the 2017 incident occurred. Yet, he respectfully informed air traffic controllers: “I’m the schmuck that landed on the taxiway.”

No one was injured that day, and after an FAA investigation, Hofer was able to announce that Ford would keep his pilot’s license—no disciplinary action would be taken, other than requiring him to complete some remedial training.

The ensuing press frenzy was enough to surprise even a Hollywood lawyer. Hofer fielded more than 60 media calls that day and gave interviews to reporters from around the world. “Our office operator would say, ‘Steve, TMZ, on line one. Sydney Morning Herald on line two. Berliner Zeitung on line three. NBC on line four,’ and so on,” he recalls.

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.

Back Home Again, in Indiana

Hofer grew up in the countryside in Madison County, Indiana, raised by resourceful Midwestern parents. His father, a decorated World War II paratrooper and recipient of the Bronze Star, worked in management for a division of General Motors. His mother was a farm girl in her youth and “literally, a coal miner’s daughter,” Hofer says. When his parents met, his mother was working as a “Rosie the Riveter,” building military equipment in a factory.

“I grew up in a home that my parents built with their own hands,” he says. “To call it a middleclass upbringing might even be a bit of a stretch. I woke up every day to a view across hundreds of acres of corn and soybean fields. At the time, I couldn’t imagine a world beyond that.”

The family has strong ties to IU. Hofer’s brother, Harry Schoger, BA’62, and sister-in-law Eleanor, BS’60, preceded him at IU Bloomington. His sister, Stephanie Keesling, attended Indiana State but chose Beck Chapel as the perfect place to hold her wedding.

Beyond education, Hofer and his siblings have an unusual connection to the Bloomington campus. They are direct descendants of some of the area’s earliest settlers, the Dunn–Brewster family, whose farmland was purchased by IU trustees in the 1880s for the construction of the campus that exists today.

Dunn Cemetery, nestled between the Memorial Union and Beck Chapel, is the resting place of many of Hofer’s ancestors—including three Brewster sisters who were Revolutionary War
Patriots—and only direct descendants of those sisters can be buried on the property. Hofer serves as genealogical curator of the cemetery, determining the eligibility of individuals who petition for burial in the cemetery. The Fall 2023 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine featured the cemetery in the article Stories Set in Stone.

Today, Hofer and his wife, Tammy Barr—an actress, model, and fashion entrepreneur—enjoy a busy life in Beverly Hills, Calif. They travel frequently and take advantage of the beauty of California’s national parks, Yosemite in particular. He is an avid supporter of arts and cultural organizations and has served on the boards of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Museum of Flying, and the Santa Monica Symphony. He still maintains strong ties to his home state, occasionally visiting Anderson and Bloomington for reunions with family, friends, and fraternity brothers. In 2021, he was inducted as a member of the Anderson Community Schools Hall of Fame.

While his life is firmly anchored on the West Coast today, he remains grateful and proud of his Hoosier upbringing and the IU education that helped him develop the strong work ethic and high standards that have seen him through a long career.

“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,” he says. “The breadth and the depth of knowledge that I received on this campus gave me a lifetime of opportunities for success.”

[This concludes the three-part series.]

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.