PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — First elected in February 2015, Stephanie Morales is the first woman to serve as commonwealth’s attorney in Portsmouth. As the top law enforcement officer in the city, she has worked to reform the criminal justice system and restore felon rights and reduce recidivism.
Now the lawyer and author has been named one of Forbes’ first For(bes) The Culture 50 Champions. The award recognizes “models of business excellence in their own various industries who also uplift Black and Brown communities through their crafts and philanthropic efforts.”
That’s a long way from the little girl in the Truxton section of Portsmouth who at the age of 6 told her mother, “I’m going to be a lawyer one day.”
Just re-elected for a third term, Morales is confident in her office with extra lighting and a camera mount, as she ad-libs an anti-bullying video for teens. She is motivated in promoting career development, dedicated when it comes to family, and vaccinated with regards to the pandemic.
“I want to see everyone live full lives. I want to see people be healthy. I want to see people unafraid to express joy. I really want to see us again thrive,” Morales said.
Morales made national headlines in 2016 when she charged a Portsmouth police officer with murder in the shooting death of an 18-year-old unarmed Black man. Critics told her, win or lose, the case would cost her her seat.
“I couldn’t care less about whether I got re-elected in that moment; it was about doing what was right for our victim and their family and for our community,” said Morales while wearing a confident red suit.
Stephen Rankin was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
In 2020, she took on her own police department again and won after 19 people were slapped with felony charges following the fall of the city’s Confederate monument.
“Whenever I see a potential injustice; whenever I see that probable cause does not exist and if ever I see anyone trying to remove me from my responsibility that my community placed on me I’m going to fight,” added Morales.
And she fights for criminal justice Morales style. She calls her package of reforms the Ctrl+Alt+Del Program. When prosecuting crimes of violence, the Morales team reverse engineers the incident to determine not just what happened, but why the defendant allegedly committed the crime.
“We work to do that; that is something, again, when I talk about the people who are in the courtroom every day that requires strength because we are in a system that is conditioned to do the same,” Morales said. “Which is when we see something and there is a gun or a violent crime there is a tendency to say lets lock this person up. because that’s all we know how to do. Time away [in prison] is an option but it’s important to take a look at every aspect and to speak to every victim and every witness.”
Now, at the age of 37 Morales, is a member of the inaugural class of the For(bes) The Culture 50 Champions.
“To be recognized with Forbes and For(bes) the Culture and a Champion, then to later find out not only was I on that list, I was also in a special rising star category … I was just speechless,” Morales told 10 On Your Side. “For once I didn’t have anything to say. I was just appreciative I was thankful I felt uplifted and it was just special.”
Other honorees include former NFL quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick, whose protest against police brutality cost him his career, as well as Harvard immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett, who was instrumental in the development of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.
Morales is also the author of a children’s book, The Day I Became a Lawyer, which describes how career day at her elementary school was pivotal in her decision, at the age of 6, to become a lawyer.