Growing up as the son of politically aware parents on Buffalo’s East Side, the Honorable Hugh B. Scott learned of the inequities of America’s court system at an early age. After graduating from Sweet Home High School in 1967, Scott enrolled at Niagara University, where he was active in the NU Players and student government, and co-founded the university’s first Black Student Union. He also met his wife, Trudy Ann (Carlson) Scott, ’72, in an early morning math class.
The civil rights movement that was under way during Scott’s undergraduate years compelled him to continue studies in law after graduating from NU in 1971. He earned his law degree from the University at Buffalo in 1974 and, motivated by his desire to improve people's access to justice, he embarked on a career that earned him a reputation as a hard-working trailblazer whose gifts of discernment, communication, and compassion enabled him to connect with those who appeared before him and to treat each case with impartiality, fairness, decency, and efficiency.
“As a public servant, Hugh was uncompromising in seeking justice for people on the margins of life, yet in his gentle and common-sense manner, he always blazed a path of light for those who were looking for a way forward,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara University president. “Hugh constantly sought to bend the legal system toward the arc of justice and mercy. His impact was deeply profound and touched countless people throughout our community.”
Scott’s first jobs in the legal field were with the Buffalo, and then Erie County law departments. He later served as a city court judge in Buffalo, assistant county attorney, and assistant corporation counsel before becoming the first African-American federal judge in Western New York.
In Scott’s highly recognized career “on the bench,” he never failed to acknowledge that the justice system did not end in the courtroom. This led him to play a key role in the development of Buffalo’s Re-Entry Court, a voluntary program that enables formerly incarcerated individuals to obtain job training, legal assistance, and other skills to assist them to ease back into society.
In July 2015, Scott stepped down from his role as an active judge but, not wanting to burden the other magistrate judges with his caseload, he continued to handle cases for the court. He also continued his remarkable community service, which, in addition to his special interest in mentoring minority youngsters in Buffalo at school career days and seminars, included serving on the boards of Niagara University, Catholic Health Systems, Gow School, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the Buffalo Museum of Science.
As a member of Niagara University’s Board of Trustees, Scott was a thoughtful, compassionate, and transformational leader committed to racial equity and justice on Monteagle Ridge. He inspired the university to establish a minor in Africana and Black studies, and he facilitated the founding of Niagara's current Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity and Mission.
Scott’s personal and professional accomplishments earned him the Rochester Black Bar Association Lifetime Achievement Award and the Canisius College MLK Award. In 2015, Niagara presented him with its St. Vincent de Paul Award.
“In all his pioneering and monumental accomplishments and in his statesmanlike demeanor, Hugh Scott embodied the words of St. Paul in his letter to the community of Corinthians, ‘if I do not have love, I gain nothing,’” said Father Maher. “Throughout his life—as a student at Niagara, a public servant, an individual committed to social justice and equity, and a great family man—Hugh Scott was someone we should be proud of and whose legacy we should strive to emulate every day.”
Hon. Hugh B. Scott, trailblazer, pioneer, leader, role model, and mentor, passed away Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. He leaves behind his wife, Trudy, and his sons, Hugh Jr. and Everett.