Making Black History

David Singleton


Executive Director, Attorney-at-Law, Professor of Law

Current / Past Place of Employment:

Executive Director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center (current); Professor of Law, NKU Chase College of Law (current)

Years in the Region:

Almost nineteen years; moved here in July 2001.



His Story:

David A. Singleton received his law degree cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1991, and his A.B. in Economics and Public Policy cum laude from Duke University in 1987.  Upon graduation from law school, David received a Skadden Fellowship to work at the Legal Action Center for the Homeless in New York City, where he practiced for three years.  He then worked as a public defender for seven years, first with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and then with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.  After moving to Cincinnati in 2001, David practiced at Thompson Hine until 2002, when he became the Executive Director of the Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice & Policy Center. David is also a tenured Professor of Law at NKU Chase College of Law, where he teaches the Constitutional Litigation Clinic, Criminal Law, and Criminal Procedure.

What makes you uniquely YOU?

I am someone who will always fight to make sure that people in our criminal legal system are treated fairly and humanely.  I believe that it is wrong to write other people off based on the worst things they have done. And I believe in the possibility and power of redemption.  These important values guide everything that I do.

What made you decide to make Cincinnati home?

We moved here so my wife, Verna Williams, could accept a position as a professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law..  

What do you love most about the Cincinnati Region?

Cincinnati forced me out of my comfort zone.  When we moved here in 2001, we left the progressive bubble of Washington, D.C. for Cincinnati’s more politically conservative environment.  At first I felt out of place and uncomfortable here. Eventually, however, I discovered the importance of working across the political spectrum to achieve criminal legal system reform.  In the process, I have made friends with people whose political views differ from mine. Cincinnati is now home.  

After a long week of work, what energizes you?

Binge-“watching” a Netflix series with my wife, Verna Williams.  The quotation marks around the word watching are intentional. After a long week, it doesn’t take me long to fall asleep on the couch with the television on.  Without fail, I awake renewed and ready to meet the next day’s challenges.   

Looking at your professional career, outside of family and friends, where have you garnered your support?

The people I represent both inspired and buoy me during difficult times.  For example, after I had to deliver bad news to one client, she told me, “I’ll be fine.  I’m used to taking a punch. I’m worried about you and how you are holding up.” It’s impossible not to continue the fight when the person you represent cares more about you than she does for herself.  

What is your most proud moment in recent history?

Professionally, my proudest moment was seeing my client Tyra Patterson walk out of prison on Christmas Morning 2017, after serving twenty-three years for crimes she did not commit.  I led the team that worked five years to free her. I will never forget the day Tyra tasted freedom for the first time in twenty-three years.

Personally, my proudest moment was watching our daughter Allison graduate from Walnut Hills High School and then head off to Brown University.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

I hope I will be remembered as someone who exemplified the idea that we should never write anyone off.  No one should be judged forever by the worst thing they have done. Accordingly, we should all be open to the possibility of redemption for people who have harmed the community in the most serious of ways.  My life’s work has focused on fighting to make sure that society does not write off the people I represent in our criminal legal system. 

How do you define success?

I define success by being able to make a meaningful difference, no matter how small or large, in the lives of the people I serve. 

What is your advice for emerging African American leaders?

Be bold.  Be decisive.  Be principled.  Do what is right.  And don’t let fear get in the way of doing any of the above.

What does Cincinnati as a “future city” mean to you?

To me, Cincinnati as a “future city” means a more progressive and diverse community that welcomes and promotes the well-being of everyone who lives here. 

What piece of advice have you received along the way in your career or life journey that has stuck with you?

Always strive to do what is right as a matter of your principles and values.  

Tell us about something that most people do not know about you.

My college friend and I once drove a moving truck into a bridge on campus after getting into an argument with someone.  Because we were distracted, we didn’t pay attention to the low-clearance warning. Although I wasn’t the driver, I was just as much at fault for not realizing we were about to crash into the bridge.  Fortunately, no one was injured.  

In what ways are you involved in the Cincinnati community outside of your professional endeavors?

I mentor young people interested in pursuing careers in the legal profession.  I often hear social commentators say we have too many lawyers. I disagree. In my opinion, we don’t have enough attorneys willing to represent low income individuals who need zealous advocates.  Accordingly, I will always do what I can to encourage my mentees to become lawyers to fill this important need.  

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