M. David Riggs was born in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, where he attended public school until graduating from high school in 1955. He was a three-sport letterman and president of the student body.
He received his bachelor’s degree from Phillips University in 1959, where he majored in English and philosophy, was captain of the baseball team and president of the student body. He earned his master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma in 1962.
From 1960 to 1970, David worked at the Tulsa County Juvenile Court, where he was first a counselor for delinquent and neglected children and later an administrator and referee of the court. His passion for helping children guided his decision to attend law school. While working at the Juvenile Court, and attending law school at night, David was instrumental in the establishment of Youth Services of Tulsa (YST). “I wanted to start a youth services bureau in Tulsa because the juvenile court didn’t have a lot of resources for those kids,” Riggs explained. “I wanted to create some way to divert kids out of the judicial system. They weren’t criminals, but they were being treated as if they were.” David became the first chairman of the board at YST, an agency which has provided protective services since that time to more than 300,000 young people.
While at The University of Tulsa College of Law, David was ranked first in his class, served as editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Law Journal, was a member of the Order of the Curule Chair and received numerous American Jurisprudence Awards. During law school, he wrote TV scripts for Callahan Production Company, tutored football players in English, did research and brief-writing for local attorneys and worked full-time as a juvenile court counselor and administrator. David earned his law degree in 1968, and was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar by order of the Supreme Court before taking the bar exam so that he could be appointed juvenile court referee.
David was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1970 and the Oklahoma Senate in 1986. One of the first bills he authored was to change the age at which juveniles could be criminally prosecuted as an adult. At the time, boys could be charged as young as 16 and placed in the adult criminal justice system; girls could not be charged as an adult until the age of 18. David’s legislation required that neither could not be charged until the age of 18.
Other major legislation he authored that became law includes: creation of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission; creation of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, providing for criminal sentencing alternatives, including restitution and community service; establishment of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa medical branch, Alternative Dispute Resolution Act, Oklahoma County Jail Standards Act and Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory (Oklahoma Biological Survey), creation of Office of Child Abuse Prevention within the State Health Department, Oklahoma Guardianship Code, Comparative Negligence Act and Oklahoma Fair Housing Act and Oklahoma Open Records Act.
In 1988, David left the legislature to practice law full time, at the firm he founded with three other TU law alumni in 1972. As the senior partner at Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis, David maintains a general law practice with an emphasis on civil litigation.
He serves on the boards for several public service organizations, including being former board chairman for Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Oklahoma Nature Conservancy and the Sutton Avian Research Center. His public service has earned him many honors including awards from the American Civil Liberties Union, Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, Oklahoma Press Association and National Association of Social Workers.
He and his wife, Arleen, will celebrate 60 years of marriage this year. They have five children, Lisa, Eric, Jennifer, Andrea and Aaron; and seven grandchildren.
David’s advice to current law students is straightforward: “Follow what you truly believe is important in life and have a passion for – don’t worry about success. You will have achieved it.