Shiny jackets and 5-inch platform heels aren’t the norm in women’s legal wear, but Springfield criminal defense attorney Stacie Bilyeu has never been one to blend into the courtroom woodwork.
“Even though I grew up in Springfield, Missouri,” says the member of Nordstrom’s fashion advisory panel, “my clothes were always an expression of me.”
And while some might say anything but a muted blazer and slacks is a form of jury trial suicide, Bilyeu knows her style gives her credibility.
“If you are true to yourself, people of any kind will accept you,” she says.
Bilyeu’s convictions don’t end with her outfits. On the list of things she’s passionate about: teaching her two children the importance of standing up for what you believe in, being an attorney who fights for the underdog and swearing when there simply is no better word.
When it comes to legal issues, Bilyeu, who practices at Askinosie & Bilyeu, says the number of nonviolent offenders who end up in prison is our country’s biggest abomination.
“First of all,” says the University of Missouri School of Law graduate, “I think it’s a real big deal to put a person in a cage. When you put somebody in jail, you better make real sure you’ve got a real good reason for doing that.”
She says it’s frustrating that some bank robbers and rapists never see a day behind bars while some drug dealers spend years in prison without parole. Changing the attitude of the community is the only way to solve what’s politically unpopular, she says.
In the meantime, Bilyeu does the best she can to ensure her clients are treated fairly under the law.
Take a man she happened upon late one Friday afternoon at the courthouse. Bilyeu had stopped in to get a warrant taken care of and found herself behind a “giant of a guy in jail clothes” who was stuttering, quoting Bible verses and acting as his own counsel.
She recalls thinking, “‘Oh, God, Why, why, why? I just want to get in and out.’ ” Then she realized she could do something. “I’m not some spiritual freak,” she says, “but this little voice said, ‘You go up, and you help that person.’ ”
So Bilyeu got the scoop on the man, a nonviolent offender with a warrant out for probation violation, and took him on as her client right then and there. The action set off a chain of serendipitous events, which culminated in the prosecuting attorney dismissing the case that very day.
“I was looking up at him, and he was looking down at me, and his eyes were full of tears,” Bilyeu remembers. “He said, ‘Does this mean I’m going home?’ When he said that word, ‘home,’ you know what that meant to him. It was like the heavens opened up and he was going inside.
“What that made me realize is how we have so much more power than we think we do,” she says. “But you don’t know it if you don’t expend it.”