Nile Stanton

Nile Stanton: A Short Bio

     I was raised a Quaker in the cocoon of Fairmount, Indiana (pop. 2,650), a lovely little place best known as hometown of legendary actor James Dean – who had the same speech and drama coach (Adeline Mart Nall) I would have later – and hometown of “Garfield” cartoonist Jim Davis as well. After earning my baccalaureate degree at Ball State University, I taught at Marion High School briefly and then at the Thomas R. White School inside the walls of the Indiana Reformatory (a maximum security prison) for four years, and took an M.A. in political science from BSU. Then, I attended law school at Indiana University Indianapolis School of Law and received my Juris Doctor in 1973.

     When I first set up the private practice of law with Ronald E. Elberger (then president of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas) 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 enormous good fortune to serve as executive director of the Indianapolis Lawyers Commission, a branch of the Indianapolis Bar Association. Its focus was on trying to improve the criminal justice system. My job would be to help the commission help the justice system work more smoothly, effectively, and fairly.

     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 mid-1970s to mid-1980s, I had six nationally publicized cases* and became by far the best known criminal defense attorney in Indiana and by many deemed one of the finest. I had cases throughout the state of Indiana as well as a few in Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, California, Florida, and Texas in both state and federal courts. I was a high profile criminal defense attorney. (One journalist wrote that I was "to the criminal court what John McEnroe [was] to the tennis court: talented, controversial, and an easy choice for media hype," and Mark Singer, staff writer for The New Yorker, wrote that I was "Indiana's homegrown version of William Kuntsler.")  

     However, at a high point in my career, there was an insidious attack on me. In July of 1983, when 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 was later written up in Playboy magazine and subsequently served as the lead story for a feature article** in the May, 1985, issue of California Lawyer (the official publication of the California Bar Association) 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. Although all charges against me were 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 federal civil rights suit for false arrest, etc., against the appropriate parties.

     In sum: Not only was I a highly successful criminal defense lawyer, I helped write the books on trial tactics and Indiana criminal procedure. State and county authorities were facing embarrassing and costly litigation in the civil suit I initiated in response to what had been done to me. However, here is where things got even dirtier.

     My best take is this: To protect Marion County, and especially its rising political star, prosecutor Steve Goldsmith (who would go on to become mayor of Indianapolis and later deputy mayor of New York City) from considerable embarrassment, groundless disciplinary complaints against me were quickly transformed into reasons to disbar me. What happened was that a 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.

     Indiana Supreme Court justice 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 a scoundrel 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, county court judge Byron Wells, in his detailed 50+ page opinion in my favor. (I dissect and eviscerate Pivarnik's BS in my recently completed memoir, Courtroom Warrior.)

    Since moving to Europe in 1987, I have taught English as a foreign language, served as a university professor in five countries, and in recent years published a few articles and four books. Of late, I've been smiling at life and having a grand time wrapping up my memoir, reflecting back on things and realizing I was the attorney who was actually there and experienced those situations and did those things!, which is hard to imagine even though true.

     To read highlights of three of my six nationally publicized cases, click here. Enjoy the excitement, and try to imagine what fun it was for me to be there!

* Four years out of law school, I served as chief defense counsel in the nationally publicized hostage-taking case of Tony Kiritsis. After that, high profile cases seemed to fall into my lap. That is, other people in serious trouble sought my services.

** 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.”)

Honors & Awards

2004, "Stanley J. Drazek Teaching Excellence Award," bestowed by the University of Maryland University College, European Division, the university's highest teaching award.

1996, "Excellent Service Award," presented by the commander of the U.S. military base at Camp Colt, Bosnia, for teaching university courses in a hazardous duty zone.

1981, “Honorary Playboy Bunny,” presented by senior editor Bill Helmer of Playboy magazine, playfully authorizing the awardee to “ply visiting journalists with hard liquor and take pictures of naked women.”

1981, "President's Award," presented by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for serving pro bono publico as chief defense counsel in the Larry Hicks death penalty case.

1981, Chairperson of the seminar on "Criminal Trial Tactics" sponsored by the Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, for which seminar I also edited the loose leaf book used.

1977, Biographee, Who's Who in American Law (1st Ed.).

1976, “Honorary Life Prisoner,” presented by the Lifers' Club at the Indiana State Prison in part for reducing its membership.

1973, "Outstanding Editor," presented by the Board of Editors of the Indiana Law Review for work as Articles Editor.

1972-1973, Corpus Juris Secundum Award for scholarship and two other book awards for top "A" in law school courses; Moot Court Board of Governors; President, Wendell Wilkie Society of International Law.

1967, Mayor's Award of "Outstanding Citizen" for organizing Marion, Indiana's first "Youth in Government Day."

1965, Member, Ball State University varsity debate team; 4th in the nation in an intercollegiate men's extemporaneous speech competition.

1962, Senior Class President, Fairmount High School, Fairmount, Indiana.