Public Service Trailblazer: Victor Olds '77
Meet Victor Olds '77, the Bronx DA's first Chief of Professional Responsibility and Training
Victor Olds ’77 never planned to be a lawyer. Growing up in the Cypress Hills public housing in East New York, he dreamed of becoming an aerospace engineer. He enrolled in the aerospace program at Brooklyn Tech and attended New York University in pursuit of that career goal. But then something changed.
“It was more fascinating to think of myself as an aerospace engineer than actually doing it,” he said. “I discovered I had gifts in other areas that also challenged my analytic and reasoning skills, and that I actually enjoyed more than solving equations.”
While in college, Olds met and was mentored by Carl Callender, who ran a Legal Aid office in West Harlem. Callender was the first lawyer of color he had ever met. “I was able to see, through Carl’s dedication and commitment to justice, how the law could help people, many of whom were from the same types of communities where I had grown up and who were in dire need,” he recalled. “I will always be indebted to Carl for sparking my interest in a career dedicated to social justice.”
Today, Olds is pioneering a new role. Last year he became the first ever chief of professional responsibility and training at the Office of the Bronx District Attorney. The brand new role has Olds training ADAs in all areas of trial and appellate practice, as well as conducting and presiding over ethical and professional responsibility investigations.
“The fact that there was no institutional position on training and ethics in any of the state’s 62 district attorneys’ offices meant that I would be the test case,” he said. “I thought, ‘If you do this properly, D.A. Darcel Clark’s office can be a model for the other 61 D.A. offices statewide.” But being first in something also carries with it significant risks. As Olds describes it, “it’s an exciting and daunting challenge, but the pressure’s definitely on!”
Olds was clearly the logical choice to oversee and train his office’s 475 prosecutors—over the course of his career he truly has done it all. He spent eight years as an assistant attorney general in charge of the New York State Attorney General’s Harlem Regional Office and 12 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. As a federal prosecutor, he split his time between civil and criminal matters and earned a reputation as a passionate advocate for justice.
“Friends told me I was going to the dark side, because I would be the reason someone would be going to jail, but I viewed it differently,” he said. “I thought that just maybe I could be the type of prosecutor who could not only help to vindicate society when it was victimized by crime, but who could also help to ensure that those accused of crimes got a fair shake from our criminal justice system.”
Olds also has served as a federal criminal defense attorney on the Southern District’s Criminal Justice Act panel as a volunteer while simultaneously working as a litigation partner for the law firm of Holland & Knight. In addition, he spent four years as senior counsel managing director and general counsel for New York City’s Bedford-Stuyvesant Legal Services office. He also did a stint as first deputy commissioner (and thereafter, acting commissioner) at the New York City Department of Investigation, where he oversaw investigations of 345 mayoral and related NYC agencies, comprising a total workforce of more than 300,000.
His current role harnesses four decades of experience and channels it into the work of teacher and mentor. In addition to conducting investigations into prosecutorial ethical breaches and violations of the rules of professional conduct, Olds oversees ADA training in all substantive and procedural areas of the law, including trial techniques.
He also sits on the ethics committee of the statewide District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, which issues guidelines to prosecutors statewide on ethical and professional responsibility issues. There, he said, part of the challenge is to come up with a set of uniform principles on which all essentially agree when it comes to dealing with law enforcement authorities. “Right now, lots of D.A. offices do things differently,” he explained. “The challenge is for us all to deal with the same police force dynamics in a way that is consistent.”
His experience as a student at Brooklyn Law School was life-changing. “When I saw that there were ways that I could apply my talents, help people, and earn a living at the same time, I knew I had found my calling,” Olds said. He credited Professor Gary Schultz as an inspiring mentor. “He had worked at Bed-Stuy Legal Services, and like Carl Callender, he was using his talent and training to help people in the most desperate need,” he said.
Olds, currently an adjunct at Columbia Law School, spent 13 years as an adjunct professor of trial and appellate advocacy at the Law School. “I am sincerely grateful to Brooklyn Law School for giving me a sense of confidence that I could branch out into a variety of areas, including litigation, teaching, and on occasion, authoring legal articles for publications.”
Olds, who aspires to the federal bench, said he is always seeking new challenges. “I never stop pursuing greater opportunities to serve.”
—Andrea Strong ’94