Skip to main content

Alum Stephen Hofer: More than an ‘Aviation Attorney to the Stars’

Stephen Hofer standing in front of the Indiana Memorial Union
Stephen Hofer, at the Indiana Memorial Union on the IUB campus, is based on the West Coast but returns to Indiana periodically. Reflecting on the value of an IU education, Hofer says: “Students coming to Bloomington from small towns in the Midwest, as I did years ago, will find themselves suddenly exposed to the whole world. It was beyond my imagination at first—art, culture, languages—a thousand possibilities just washing over you.” Photo by Marc Lebryk.

A person known as the “aviation attorney to the stars” could—for that reason alone—be worth getting to know. Stephen Hofer, BA’76, is that Los Angeles-based attorney, but his life story offers many more compelling chapters: his role in the turbulent campus politics of the Vietnam era, an early and accomplished tenure in journalism, a shocking visit to the IU registrar’s office, time well spent on a Hollywood game show, a historic moment with Bobby Knight at the 1984 Summer Olympics, and, back at IU, his unique role related to Dunn Cemetery, the quiet spot on the Bloomington campus that has a compelling story of its own.

Boy Wonder

Long before Hollywood and aviation law entered his life, Hofer was a high achiever through grade school and at Madison Heights High School in Anderson, Ind. He loved English, history, government, and, especially, journalism.

You could say his reporting career launched in fifth grade, when he began going door to door, interviewing neighbors and writing stories about the latest developments in their lives. From there, he created his own neighborhood newspaper, The Park Road Spy. With the help of his father, who had access to a mimeograph machine (a low-cost duplicating machine), he went into publishing.

“Dad would run off the copies at work and I would get on my bike and deliver them around the neighborhood to my 40 or 50 subscribers,” he recalls. Yes, he had subscribers.

Hofer was a natural leader, serving as student body president at Madison Heights, then statewide president for the Indiana Association of Student Councils, and ultimately earning an award as Most Outstanding Teenage Boy of 1968 at a national conference held in Honolulu.

“I was always a talkative little kid,” he says. “I assumed—and everybody around me pretty much assumed—that I would either be a lawyer or a journalist one day.”

An Education Troubled by War

Hofer began his studies at IU Bloomington in the fall of 1968. He dove into college life—majoring in political science and journalism and juggling coursework with a hefty involvement in student government while keeping pace with his Phi Kappa Theta fraternity brothers.

Like campuses across the nation, IU Bloomington was a hub of activism in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

“It’s difficult to convey what an extraordinary time that was in American educational history,” Hofer says. “This wasn’t the experience I was expecting to encounter when I went away to college, but it was the times that were thrust upon us.”

In 1970, Keith Parker, ’71, an antiwar activist and member of the Black Panther Party, was elected IUB’s student body president. Parker’s vice president was Mike King, BA’71, a member of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, and the editor of an influential local underground newspaper, The Spectator. They ran for office with aspirations of fighting for racial justice and stopping the war in Vietnam through student activism.

Parker and King presided over IU Student Senate meetings, where Hofer served as senate clerk, recording minutes that evoked the galvanizing issues of the day: the war, the draft, civil rights, and women’s rights, along with campus-based proposals for a student legal aid office and a daycare center.

That year, Hofer played a role in what was arguably the most radical student government in IU’s history.

“If you weren’t there, you really can’t appreciate the depth of emotion students were feeling about everything going on at that time,” Hofer says. “The Vietnam War and the loss of thousands of young lives, growing anti-war sentiment, the splintering of the civil rights movement into violent and non-violent factions, and the King and Kennedy assassinations—all of these left gaping wounds in the national psyche. The students were motivated by deeply held feelings.”

‘Consorting with the Enemy’

In 1971, Parker selected Hofer to chair the Student Legislative Coordinating Committee, or SLCC, an organization intended to create a bridge between IU student government and the Indiana state legislature. Both knew that Hofer’s more moderate voice would be better received in the Statehouse.

Working within the system was viewed by many students of the day as “consorting with the enemy,” but Hofer saw the benefits clearly. His task was to identify and organize a group of students, ideally from all parts of Indiana, to represent “the best of IU” to Indiana lawmakers. The stakes were high, given that Indiana legislators, like many across the nation, were troubled about the “radicalization” of college campuses and were threatening to make cuts to university’s funding.

“We were the lobbying arm of the student government, acting on behalf of the student body,” Hofer explains. The goal, he says, was to convey a message to the legislators that the university was deserving of funding, and that significant cuts would have a negative effect on students, the quality of instruction, and ultimately IU’s regional and national reputations.

He assembled a group of 25 polished, well-informed student lobbyists who worked well with campus administration. Among the group was a bright political science major named Jane Pauley, BA’72, LHD’96, whose future would include a tenure as host of NBC’s Today Show.

“Of all the things I did while in student government, my work as chair of the SLCC makes me the proudest,” he says. “The fact that IU actually received higher funding from the legislature in 1971 and that there was no fee increase that year, despite everything that was happening on campus, suggests that our efforts were very successful.”

The Upside of Defeat

That same year, Hofer made a run for IU student body president amid a chaotic field of candidates. The traditional political parties, based primarily in the dorms and the Greek system, had splintered into fractious coalitions, leaving more than a dozen candidates with hats in the ring. Hofer worked hard to win. “I had always planned to run, and by that time, I knew everybody in IU student government,” he says.

He lost to Mary (Scifres) Grabianowski, BA’79, MS’92, the first woman to be elected to that office. It was a history-making moment for IU, the significance of which Hofer understood, despite personal defeat.

“Losing the student body president election turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me at IU,” he says. “It helped me regain a sense of balance and humility that I really needed in my life at that time.”

Hofer stands with Ernie Pyle statue
Hofer, on the IUB campus at the statue of famed journalist Ernie Pyle, LHD’44, embarked on a journalistic career of his own while still an IU student. He had success, but the effort derailed his academic pursuits, at least for a time. Photo by Marc Lebryk.

Adrenaline Rush

In the spring of 1970, carrying a full load of classes and keeping up with the high drama of campus politics, Hofer took a part-time job at Bloomington’s Daily Herald-Telephone (now The Herald-Times), where his talents as a writer and manager were immediately on display.

“I would often cover municipal or other board meetings in the evenings, then come in on the weekends to put out both the Saturday and Sunday newspapers,” he says. “I got to know the Bloomington mayor and all the local politicians, and I learned how to put out a daily newspaper.”

Before long, he was thriving in the adrenaline-charged atmosphere of the newsroom. In May of 1972, he put college on hold and began working full time at the Daily Herald-Telephone. And then in October, he was named managing editor, a notoriously demanding role at any newspaper.

Suddenly, at age 22, Hofer was both the youngest person in the newsroom and managing editor, supervising a staff of some 20 editors, reporters, and photographers. An industry trade magazine reported that he was the youngest managing editor of a daily newspaper anywhere in the U.S.

He relished the work, and the H-T earned a reputation for editorial quality, winning the Hoosier State Press Association’s Blue Ribbon Award for outstanding daily newspaper and several other coveted awards.

A No Good, Very Bad Day

Hofer was making great strides in the career he had been training for at IU, but he still planned to earn his degree.

He vividly remembers a day in 1974 when he visited the Office of the Registrar to check on his academic status. Alums of the 1970s likely remember the registrar’s office, located in the old IU Library building—now the IU Media School. Back in the predigital age, the office had a Dickensian vibe, just slightly beyond quill pens and leather-bound ledgers. Students waited in long lines to ask questions or make requests. Staff would then pore over paper files to determine their academic fates.

He knew he had some incompletes, but he was shocked to learn the details.

“The staff person said, ‘Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with so many incompletes. Technically, these should have already turned into F’s, but since they haven’t, you get a break. You’ll need to talk to your professors and ask what you need to do to complete these classes,’” he recalls.

There was quite a lot at stake in his young life when he heard that news. Thoughts of law school—a second career path he had considered since boyhood—were now at risk.

Determined, he dropped back to one day a week at the H-T, tracked down his professors, and methodically worked his way through all the incompletes. He wrote papers, took final exams, and several professors required him to take entire courses over again. Today, he can’t quite recall the exact number of incompletes he resolved back then, but guesses it was somewhere in the ballpark of 12 to 15. He also re-enrolled and took several new classes.

“It took a year and a half, but that was my most enjoyable time at IU,” he recalls. “Actually, it was one of the best times of my entire life. When I finally embraced college and took the opportunity to simply learn, go to all my classes, interact with professors and classmates, and generally immerse myself in the educational experience, and enjoy all that it offered, it was a fabulous thing to do.”

Luckily, a benefit of spending additional years on campus in the mid-1970s was getting to experience men’s basketball history, culminating in the 1976 NCAA championship win. “I was a full-time student, and I was able to get student season tickets for IU basketball,” he says, with obvious delight. Hofer also wrote the front-page story for the Herald-Telephone about the celebrations on campus and around town that winning night. The story can still be found, to this day, hanging on the wall at BuffaLouie’s restaurant in Bloomington.

Luck in La La Land

After graduating from IU in 1976 with a double major in political science and journalism, Hofer worked as a writer and editor at the prestigious Miami Herald before committing to law school at Northwestern University, where he won the Lowden-Wigmore Prize for outstanding legal writing. Law degree in hand, he accepted a position with the distinguished Los Angeles firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in 1980, where his clients included the Los Angeles Times and the NBC broadcast network.

That summer, while he was settling into California life and preparing to start his new job, he remembered one of his IU fraternity brothers had once told him that he had a good memory for facts and trivia and would be a great game show contestant. The idea was all the more appealing when he thought of the student loan debt he had accumulated in law school.

What follows is almost too good to be true, even for a story set in La La Land.

He pursued the idea and was invited to appear on a show called Bullseye, where he won $29,000 in cash over the course of two days, along with a trip to French Polynesia and an Apple computer. The money was enough to make a down payment on his first Los Angeles home. (He’s not the only IU alum with a game-show story—read them in Contestant Chronicles.)

All that, and yet, good fortune wasn’t quite finished with him. The day after his game-show triumphs, he learned that he had passed the California Bar Examination.

That night, he attended a party for the new recruits at his law firm who had passed the bar exam. “One of the Gibson Dunn partners came over to me. He knew that I’d won big on a game show on Thursday and Friday and then got admitted to the bar on Saturday. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Steve, not every week in LA is going to be this good.’”

Gold Medal Memory

Hofer’s journalism background, wide-ranging curiosity, and sheer talent have taken him in some unexpected directions. One of Hofer’s most cherished career experiences began when Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Summer Olympics.

It all started when David Price, the chairman of American Golf Corporation (where Hofer would later work for nearly a decade as the chief legal officer) was appointed commissioner of basketball for the 1984 Games. Price invited Hofer to serve as venue press chief for the sport of basketball, and Hofer assembled a staff of 80 volunteers, including a contingent of IU journalism students, to support the media coming from around the world to cover the men’s and women’s tournaments. It was an opportunity that also put him back in touch with Hoosier basketball coach Bob Knight, who served as head coach of Team USA. The team featured an all-star roster that included IU’s own Steve Alford, BS’87.

Hofer was reviewing the history of Olympic basketball when he realized that quite a few of the U.S. players who had participated in the 1936 Berlin Games were still living in the Los Angeles area. In 1936, basketball was contested for the first time as an official medal sport and, by all accounts, the playing conditions in Berlin were far from ideal. The U.S. had defeated Canada for the gold medal in a steady downpour, slogging through thick mud on a clay and sand court. Presumably due to the nasty weather, no formal medal ceremony took place that day, which must have made even an Olympic victory feel somewhat anti-climactic. Hofer had an idea.

“I thought, why don’t we arrange to honor these players at the Los Angeles Olympics?” he recalls.

Everyone—from the Olympic Organizing Committee to the television broadcasters to Coach Knight—loved it. The ceremony took place at halftime of a U.S. men’s game and was broadcast around the world. The players received special ceremonial medals to complement their original 1936 gold, and Knight invited them into the locker room, where they were greeted enthusiastically by Alford, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and other team members.

“Those moments with Coach Knight and the 1936 and 1984 Olympians gathered together was absolutely the highlight of my Olympic experience,” Hofer says, not an insignificant judgment since he also got to attend both the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1984 Olympic Games.

Stephen Hofer standing in front of a jet airplane
Hofer’s Los Angeles-based firm, Aerlex Law Group, founded in 2005, has represented a long list of A-listers from Hollywood, music, and sports. Courtesy photo.

‘Aviation Attorney to the Stars’

In his chosen profession—aviation law—Hofer helps his clients navigate the entire aircraft acquisition process, including the complexities of aircraft ownership, taxes, management, and insurance, as well as esoteric Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

And many of his clients are notable. Hofer’s Los Angeles-based firm, Aerlex Law Group, founded in 2005, has represented a long list of A-listers from Hollywood, music, and sports, including Bono, Cher, Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Hopkins, Magic Johnson, Nicole Kidman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rod Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Keith Urban, Tiger Woods, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The client list has earned Hofer the moniker “aviation attorney to the stars,” and the firm’s work has earned him the respect of his peers, along with designation as a Southern California Super Lawyer accolade for 15 years in a row. The London-based Chambers and Partners, an independent legal research company, has ranked him as one of the 12 top aviation attorneys in the world for eight consecutive years.

Of course, Hofer has quite a few celebrity anecdotes, only some of which he can share due to attorney-client confidentiality obligations.

“If Andy Warhol was correct, my 15 minutes of fame was when I was able to announce that the FAA had decided not to take any action against one of my clients, who had mistakenly landed on a taxiway when he was supposed to land on a runway.” Hofer attempts discretion, but the incident and the client are too well-known. The client was Harrison Ford, aka Han Solo, the legendary Millennium Falcon pilot of the Star Wars films.

Ford had already been at the center of several highly publicized series of aviation mishaps when the 2017 incident occurred. Yet, he respectfully informed air traffic controllers: “I’m the schmuck that landed on the taxiway.”

No one was injured that day, and after an FAA investigation, Hofer was able to announce that Ford would keep his pilot’s license—no disciplinary action would be taken, other than requiring him to complete some remedial training.

The ensuing press frenzy was enough to surprise even a Hollywood lawyer. Hofer fielded more than 60 media calls that day and gave interviews to reporters from around the world. “Our office operator would say, ‘Steve, TMZ, on line one. Sydney Morning Herald on line two. Berliner Zeitung on line three. NBC on line four,’ and so on,” he recalls.

Back Home Again, in Indiana

Stephen Hofer standing in Dunn Cemetery
Hofer, at Dunn Cemetery on the IUB campus, serves as the cemetery’s genealogical curator, determining the eligibility of individuals who petition for burial. Photo by Marc Lebryk.

Hofer grew up in the countryside in Madison County, Indiana, raised by resourceful Midwestern parents. His father, a decorated World War II paratrooper and recipient of the Bronze Star, worked in management for a division of General Motors. His mother was a farm girl in her youth and “literally, a coal miner’s daughter,” Hofer says. When his parents met, his mother was working as a “Rosie the Riveter,” building military equipment in a factory.

“I grew up in a home that my parents built with their own hands,” he says. “To call it a middle-class upbringing might even be a bit of a stretch. I woke up every day to a view across hundreds of acres of corn and soybean fields. At the time, I couldn’t imagine a world beyond that.”

The family has strong ties to IU. Hofer’s brother, Harry Schoger, BA’62, and sister-in-law Eleanor, BS’60, preceded him at IU Bloomington. His sister, Stephanie Keesling, attended Indiana State but chose Beck Chapel as the perfect place to hold her wedding.

Beyond education, Hofer and his siblings have an unusual connection to the Bloomington campus. They are direct descendants of some of the area’s earliest settlers, the Dunn–Brewster family, whose farmland was purchased by IU trustees in the 1880s for the construction of the campus that exists today.

Dunn Cemetery, nestled between the Memorial Union and Beck Chapel, is the resting place of many of Hofer’s ancestors—including three Brewster sisters who were Revolutionary War Patriots—and only direct descendants of those sisters can be buried on the property. Hofer serves as genealogical curator of the cemetery, determining the eligibility of individuals who petition for burial in the cemetery. The Fall 2023 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine featured the cemetery in the article Stories Set in Stone.

Today, Hofer and his wife, Tammy Barr—an actress, model, and fashion entrepreneur—enjoy a busy life in Beverly Hills, Calif. They travel frequently and take advantage of the beauty of California’s national parks, Yosemite in particular. He is an avid supporter of arts and cultural organizations and has served on the boards of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Museum of Flying, and the Santa Monica Symphony. He still maintains strong ties to his home state, occasionally visiting Anderson and Bloomington for reunions with family, friends, and fraternity brothers. In 2021, he was inducted as a member of the Anderson Community Schools Hall of Fame.

While his life is firmly anchored on the West Coast today, he remains grateful and proud of his Hoosier upbringing and the IU education that helped him develop the strong work ethic and high standards that have seen him through a long career.

“Students coming to Bloomington from small towns in the Midwest, as I did years ago, will find themselves suddenly exposed to the whole world. It was beyond my imagination at first—art, culture, languages—a thousand possibilities just washing over you,” he says. “The breadth and the depth of knowledge that I received on this campus gave me a lifetime of opportunities for success.”

Written By

Deborah Galyan

Deborah Galyan, BA’77, is a freelance writer. She served as executive director of communications and marketing for the IU College of Arts and Sciences from 2012 to 2022.

Related stories

Coach Bob Knight stands with two players

Coach Bob Knight: 1940–2023

Bob Knight, the legendary and often controversial former Hoosier men’s basketball head coach, died Nov. 1, 2023. He was 83.

Sketches of Antonia Wilson Bluher, Karen Schuster Webb, and Brian T. Shockney

IU Presents Its Highest Honor for Alumni

Antonia Wilson Bluher, Karen Schuster Webb, and Brian T. Shockney were named the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Service Award recipients.

Collection of tombstones in Dunn Cemetery

Stories Set in Stone: An Old Cemetery Tells Tales of IU’s Deep Past

Dunn Cemetery has been a family gravesite since the 1820s. Approximately 68 people are buried in the cemetery, possibly a few more in unmarked graves.

Headshot of Lloyd Devereux Richards; "Stone Maidens" book cover

Stone Maidens Author Sells 100,000 Books After Going Viral on TikTok

Eleven years after publishing his book Stone Maidens, Lloyd Devereux Richards, JD’80, became a best-selling author on Amazon.