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COURT: Alameda County Superior ELECTED: November 2002 DATE OF BIRTH: June 3, 1961 LAW SCHOOL: Boalt Hall School of Law, 1986 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: Juvenile court commissioner, 2001-03 Trina Thompson Stanley may have reached the bench relatively early in her legal career, but her start as an attorney probably didn’t feel like a step in the right direction. Former Alameda County prosecutor Peter Smith remembers Stanley’s first trial in the late 1980s. Stanley’s client was facing a DUI charge, and she had deftly argued to keep almost all of a videotape from a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing — which was particularly damaging to her client — out of evidence. Smith, himself not long out of law school, remembers being impressed. Then Stanley’s client made the assertion that the tape was doctored. “At that point, we could play the whole tape,” Smith said. “You could see Trina . . . she worked so hard to keep it out, and her client put it back in.” Stanley lost the case, but not the respect of her opponent. “You really have to be able to advocate for your client, but also see the bigger picture of what’s going on,” Smith said. “She always seemed able to do that, even in the early days.” Stanley’s reputation as a hard-working, smart and passionate attorney has won her plenty of friends in the Alameda County bar. It shows in her ascent from public defender to private practice to juvenile court commissioner. When she announced her intent to run for a judge’s seat in 2002, Stanley was by far the youngest candidate. Yet she got 68 percent of the vote — and the bulk of judicial endorsements. Stanley now presides over a busy criminal calendar in the Wiley E. Manuel Courthouse. Occasionally someone will ask her how she got there, and she’ll joke that she doesn’t know. But she does. “Grace and serendipity,” she says. “People fell into my life at the right time.” Two were the foster parents who took Stanley into their Vallejo home when she was a teenager struggling to concentrate on her studies. Another was Tom Broome, an Oakland criminal defense attorney who saw something in the young public defender. Broome encouraged Stanley to try private practice, even giving her six months’ free rent. She needed the extra coaxing. “She’s obviously very intelligent and very self-confident,” Broome said. “I thought she had a lot more confidence in her abilities than she did.” Stanley went on to specialize in homicide cases and in trial work. In 2001, California Lawyer magazine gave her an honorable mention as one of the best Bay Area attorneys. Stanley said she loves the investigative aspects of legal work — particularly in criminal defense. “I was really intrigued with human stories and how things unfolded,” she said. That passion stems from a love of reading, which Stanley often shares with those who appear before her in court. Starting as a juvenile court commissioner and now as a participant in Alameda County’s Mentor Diversion Program, Stanley gives out works by Maya Angelou, Ben Carson, Walter Mosley and Amy Tan — or even a sports autobiography — to young people who might benefit from other points of view. “I would choose a book where the content of the character or the antagonist would have similar bouts with life that they did,” she said. “I slowly try to find things that will provide them information, and I try to do it in a way that’s not judgmental.” But when need be, Stanley is able to be judgmental, too. At a recent preliminary hearing, Stanley had to decide whether there was enough evidence to convict Elnora Myles of murder. Myles was accused of killing a male acquaintance, hiding the body inside the laundry room of the man’s home and stealing his credit cards. Public defender Alys Briggs didn’t argue the theft charges. But she said there was not enough evidence for murder. There were no witnesses and no murder weapon. The cause of death — blunt trauma — could have been caused by the victim falling down stairs, she said. “You still have to have some level of proof beyond speculation,” Briggs said. However, Stanley, considering the “totality” of the evidence, thought there was proof. The victim’s body, she noted, was covered in plastic wrap and particle board — and nailed shut. “That alone suggests more occurred than just an accident,” she said. She allowed the murder charge. No pushover for the defense, for sure. But as a relative newcomer to the bench, Stanley said she struggled at first to restrain her past as an advocate. “As a judge, you’re totally neutral,” she said. “Being an active listener, as opposed to advocating, for the first year or two, took a little work.” Broome thinks she’s done the work. Sometimes trial attorneys believe newer judges “aren’t going to be on top of things,” he said, but they’d be wrong about Stanley. “I think she’s going to be outstanding,” he said. “She’s the same way on the bench she was in private practice. She’s well prepared.” — Warren Lutz You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges at www.therecorder.com/ profiles.html or by calling 415-749-5523.

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