Judge Fernando Gaitan, Jr. was born on August 22, 1948 to Fernando, Sr. and Betty Gaitan in Kansas City, Kansas. He attended Northeast Junior High School, and graduated from Sumner High School in 1966. He attended Kansas City Kansas Community College and Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. He obtained his B.S. degree in biology and psychology from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas in 1970. Gaitan earned his J.D. degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law in 1974.
Following law school, Gaitan went to work as in-house counsel for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company from 1974 to 1980. Appointed trial judge of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri, he served from 1980 to 1986. In 1986, Gaitan became the first African American appointee to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District. Appointed by Governor John Ashcroft, he served from 1986 to 1991. Gaitan was nominated by President George H. W. Bush to a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri and was confirmed by the Senate in 1991. From 1997 to 2003, he served as member of the Federal-State Jurisdiction Committee of the Judicial Conference. In 2007, Gaitan became Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, and served a seven-year term thorough 2014. He took senior status to Senior Judge in 2014.
Gaitan has served as member of the Eighth Circuit Judicial Council, the Judicial Conference Federal-State Jurisdiction Committee and Committee on the Administration of Bankruptcy System. He also served on the boards of the Kansas City Science Museum, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, St. Luke’s Hospital, and the De La Salle Alternative School, as chair. Gaitan served as an advisory board member and vice-chair for the Kansas City Crime Commission’s “Second Chance” Foundation, as well as an adjunct professor and member of the Board of Trustees for the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.
Gaitan received the Alumnus of the Year Award from UMKC, the Outstanding Alumnus Award from Pittsburg State University, The William Jewell College Yates Medallion, the Difference Maker Award from the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the Centurion Leadership Award from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and the Reason to Believe Award from the Kansas City, Kansas School District. He was also inducted into the Missouri Walk of Fame.
Fernando Gaitin, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 9, 2019.