A Brief and Incomplete Autobiographical Sketch of Nile Stanton
– January 2, 2015
I was raised in the cocoon of the small Quaker community of Fairmount, Indiana (pop. 3,000), was senior class president at Fairmount High School in 1962 and thereafter attended Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, on two scholarships but worked in the library as well. After graduation in late 1965, I taught at Marion High School for a short time and then at the T.R. White School inside the walls of the Indiana Reformatory (a maximum security prison) for four years, from mid-1968 to mid-1972.
From 1967-1969, I pursued graduate studies at Ball State University. My M.A. thesis examined United States military intervention in Vietnam under international law, a topic I had addressed as a featured speaker at the October, 1965, Teach-In at BSU.
When I first set up the private practice of law with Ronald E. Elberger (then President of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union) in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the fall of 1974, I was well prepared to jump into the fray and fight for justice in the nation’s courtrooms. For the previous two years (my last year of law school and first year as a lawyer), I’d had the great good fortune to serve as Executive Director of the Indianapolis Lawyer’s Commission, a branch of the Indianapolis Bar Association. Its focus was on trying to improve the criminal justice system. In this capacity, I drafted (with able assistance from others) the original LEAA grant applications that resulted in funding for the first law clerks for judges and prosecutors in Indianapolis, the first computerized information retrieval system for Marion County Prosecutors, a state work release program for prisoners, etc., and also obtained a million dollar Labor Department grant to set up the first diagnostic testing program for the Indiana Department of Correction. In 1973, I was appointed to be a member of Indiana Governor Matthew Welch’s "Blue Ribbon Committee" to investigate and report on the causes and consequences of the riot and take-over of the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City, Indiana, which began on Labor Day of 1973. (As fate would have it, the lead spokesperson for the prisoners was a young Black Muslim and Marxist, Askia Mohammad (aka Wayne C. Webb), for whom I’d soon win freedom as I had jokingly said I would when he had been my assistant when I taught at the Indiana Reformatory.)
During the time I practiced law (1974-1986), I chaired the Mental Health Committee of the Young Lawyers Section of the Indiana State Bar Association for two years, in which capacity I visited the state mental health institutions in Indiana to study the manner in which patients were treated and attended a few nation-wide mental health seminars. During this time, I also chaired the Committee on Certification of a Specialty in Criminal Law for a few years and drafted proposed bar association rules for such certification.
My career as a criminal defense attorney began with a meteoric rise: Since many prisoners knew me, I was hired to do a great deal of post-conviction work. I carefully screened the first several cases I took and as a result was able to win liberty for every prisoner I represented during the first year and a half of my legal career. Then, from the late-1970s to mid-1980s, I had five nationally publicized cases,* became by far the best known criminal defense attorney in Indiana, and by some deemed one of the finest. Hence, were I to be falsely accused of a major crime, the damage to my reputation would have been of considerable consequence. And, it was, although brought about in a more insidious manner than one might have expected: When, in July of 1983, I was wrongfully arrested and accused of giving cocaine to a young female police informant (something I did not do), it was major news around Indiana and the entire affair served as the lurid lead story for a feature article** in the May, 1985, issue of California Lawyer (the official publication of the California Bar Association) and was written up in Playboy magazine as well. As a result of the serious felony charge of delivering cocaine, some clients fired me and prospective new clients stayed away, as one might expect; and, although all charges against me were completely dropped and the case dismissed by the state in November of 1983, I was forced to file bankruptcy in early 1984. I also filed a multi-million dollar civil rights suit for false arrest, etc., against the appropriate parties in the Indiana State Police and Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.
In sum: Not only was I a highly successful criminal defense lawyer, I helped write the books on Indiana criminal procedure. My success and stature as a criminal defense attorney are noted in order to allow readers to better appreciate the damage inflicted upon me by the wrongful arrest and prosecution, even though all charges were ultimately dropped. State and county authorities were facing embarrassing and costly litigation in the civil suit I initiated in response what had been done to me. However, here is where things got dirty . . .
protect Marion County, and especially its rising Republican star, Prosecutor
Steve Goldsmith (who would go on to become Mayor of Indianapolis and later
Deputy Mayor of New York City) from considerable embarrassment and financial
liability, groundless disciplinary complaints against me were quickly transformed
into reasons to disbar me. What happened was that a
Republican political henchman on the Supreme Court of Indiana named Alfred
Pivarnik rewrote some facts and wholly ignored or grossly distorted pertinent
others in order to conjure reasons for my disbarment. It
is truly as simple as that. Judge Pivarnik’s version
of events has it that I abandoned a client, didn’t do promised work for another,
breached the attorney-client privilege, etc., making me out to be a reprobate
of the first order -- a rewriting of the record that, in all but one rather
odd instance, wholly ignored the findings of fact and conclusions of law made
by the original Disciplinary Hearing Officer, Republican county court judge
Byron Wells, in his detailed 50+ page opinion in my favor.
Unfortunately, neither that meticulously detailed and substantially
accurate account nor my statement to the press concerning my disbarment has
been available on the web until now: The latter now available in the "About
Me" section of this website's homepage, and I no longer have the former.
To Be Continued.
* A mere three years out of law school, I had the good fortune to have a career-making case: I was hired to serve as chief defense counsel in the nationally publicized insanity defense case of Tony Kiritsis, one that resulted in the first jury verdict of acquittal broadcast live on nation-wide TV. Thereafter, in addition to many much less publicized cases, I served pro bono publico to win a new trial and subsequent acquittal in the death penalty case of Larry Hicks. Additionally, I served as chief defense counsel for Richard Claude Curry of Venice, Florida, who was charged in federal court with being the main pilot and trainer of other pilots for the international drug smuggling organization known as “The Company” and with flying tons of marijuana from Colombia into the United States for several years. After Curry’s highly publicized trial and acquittal, I also served as chief defense counsel for Brett C. Kimberlin in the longest (9 weeks) of his several trials on multiple charges stemming from a series of bombings in Speedway, Indiana, and international drug trafficking.
** Author Jonathan L. Kirsch wrote: “Stanton’s prosecution is only one particularly lurid example of what criminal defense attorneys and others see as a concerted effort by prosecutors across the country to harass and intimidate the defense bar.” Kirsch wrote that, “The real crime of attorneys like Nile Stanton or (San Diego defense attorney) James Warner . . . is that they are honest, competent and aggressive.” He added: “The best lawyers – the most visible and most effective – are being targeted.” See also Norman G. Kittel, "The Future of Criminal Defense Attorneys: Chilled Advocacy and Lessened Independence?," Journal of Crime and Justice 11.1 (1988): 189-209. (“Possibly the most notorious of the current prosecutions is that of Indianapolis CDA, Nile Stanton.”)