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U.S. magistrate judge to retire

Chip Ellis
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary E. Stanley will retire at the end of March. In 1992, she became first woman appointed to the federal post.

WANT TO GO?

Women of Achievement awards luncheon

WHEN: March 8, noon to 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Charleston Embassy Suites

TICKETS: $75 (75 percent tax deductible)

CONTACT: YWCA, 304-340-3557 or www.ywcacharleston.org

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Eight years ago, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary E. Stanley, perhaps channeling her former boss and her mother, slapped an interesting sentence on one of a long line of corrupt Southern West Virginia officials.

She made former Logan Police Chief Alvin "Chipper" Porter give eighth graders monthly lectures on political corruption following his conviction in a county vote-buying scheme.

New Orleans native to be honored at luncheon

Years before, Stanley worked as a federal prosecutor under then-U.S. Attorney and well-known bane of crooked politicians, Robert B. King.

Her mother, Helen Stanley, was a civics teacher.

"Who knows, that may have been part of my mother coming out," Stanley said with a chuckle. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

At the end of the month, Stanley, the first woman to serve as a federal magistrate judge in West Virginia, will hang up her hammer. Her retirement marks the end of a storied legal career that saw dozens of criminal prosecutions and the gradual dissipation of once rampant gender discrimination that embraced the state's legal climate.

"I'm ready to go on to the next phase of my life," said Stanley, who will go on a two-week excursion to Spain when she officially leaves the bench on March 31. 

Stanley, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the University of Virginia School of Law, grew up just outside of Washington, D.C., and moved to West Virginia in the early 1970s.

She struggled to find her first job, and was passed up for a number of legal positions because employers at the time were unwilling to hire women.

"I applied for a job in the state government and was told that I would not be considered unless I promised not to have a baby for five years," she said. "Boy, did that make me mad."

She eventually landed a job at the Columbia Gas Transmission legal department, where she stayed for two and a half years before she had her first child. The company was unwilling to let her work part time, she said.

After leaving Columbia Gas, she clerked for U.S. District Judge Dennis R. Knapp, handling the thousands of black lung cases that were making their way to federal court at the time.

In 1977, incoming President Jimmy Carter appointed Robert King to Southern West Virginia's U.S. Attorney post. Stanley, who knew King through her then husband, told him that she wanted to be a prosecutor.

"He said you're hired," Stanley said. At the time, she was pregnant with her second child.

Within a few months, Stanley was trying her first criminal case. She would go on to litigate dozens more during her 15-year tenure as a prosecutor, favoring document-heavy fraud and public corruption cases.

In 1991, Stanley led a four-year investigation of Kanawha County Housing and Urban Development Director Carl Smith, who was accused of accepting bribes from a developer involved in a Nitro housing project.

A judge eventually sentenced Smith to 4 1/2 years in federal prison. The conviction, however, was overturned after a federal appellate panel found that his "use immunity" agreement was violated during the prosecution.

In his immunity agreement, Smith was promised that information in the government's possession would not be used against him in return for his testimony in the trial of Frank Vinson, another former Kanawha County housing official who was also charged in the conspiracy.

"If I had a chance to do it again, I would have done it differently," Stanley said, ceding that though she thought the appeals court was wrong to overturn the conviction; Smith's defense team had a legitimate gripe. "The evidence was extremely strong. It was the legal issue that was the problem."

The next year, Stanley applied for the vacant magistrate post in the Bluefield and Beckley divisions. The district judges at the time selected her over 76 other applicants, according to previous Gazette reports.

As a magistrate, Stanley presided mostly over civil disputes and preliminary proceedings in criminal matters. On rare occasions, like in Porter's case, was she able to hand down a sentence.

Porter admitted that he bought votes for Logan County officials who controlled courthouse jobs. In 2002, he received $500 to buy votes for a list of candidates. He gave three or four people $10 for the slate.

Stanley said at the time that she decided to order Porter to give speeches on political corruption to youngsters in hopes that his lessons will help dislodge the county's longstanding culture of corruption.

"I felt like talking out loud about political corruption and vote buying would be an important thing for people to hear," she said. "Rather than accepting it as this is the way we've always done it, I thought it would mean something if a person who had been in a position of leadership was out there in the public, saying out loud that it's illegal, it's wrong."

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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