Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Donna Hill Staton
MSA SC 3520-12376

Extended Biography:

Donna Hill Staton wanted to be a lawyer since age 12.1 Not only did she succeed in this goal, but in 1995 she made history by becoming the first African-American judge in Howard County,  winning appointment to the Howard County Circuit Court.  Although her appointment was much celebrated, her judicial tenure ended in controversy as she lost her position the next year in an election in which many alleged racism was a factor.2 African-American advocates were somewhat mollified the following year  when Alice Pollard Clark was appointed to the District Court for Howard County.  Staton also rebounded from the 1995 defeat, quickly obtaining a high-profile job in the Maryland Attorney General's office, thus continuing her successful career.

Staton was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, on December 5, 1957.  Her family moved to Howard County, Maryland in 1969, and she attended Wilde Lake High School, playing for the school's basketball team and running track.  She went on to earn her bachelor's degree in English from Princeton University in 1979 and her law degree from the National Law Center at George Washington University in 1982.  That same year she was admitted to the Maryland bar.

After gaining practical experience as a law clerk to Judge Joseph C. Howard, U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Staton was hired as an associate and later a litigation partner with Piper & Marbury.  There she handled mostly commercial cases, representing Fortune 500 companies as well as small businesses.  In addition, Staton represented abused and neglected children on a pro bono basis.  She became the first African-American woman at the firm to be promoted from associate to partner.3

During these years, Staton became actively involved with a number of professional and community organizations.  She continued to serve on the board of directors for the Howard County Sexual Assault Center and was elected vice-president and then president of the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys.  Later she served on the board of governors and committee on laws for the Maryland State Bar Association, and was a member of the Attorney Grievance Commission and the Advisory Committee to the U.S. District Court for Maryland.  Staton has also given back to the community, serving on the Business Advisory Council for the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, on the Board of Trustees for the McDonough School, and on the board of directors for Leadership Howard County, and as a member of the William T. Walters Association and the Beyond Bars Community Advisory Committee for the Girl Scouts.  She has also participated in Goucher College's Mentor Program.4

All of Staton's contributions made her a logical choice for the Howard County Circuit Court.  She was appointed to the bench in 1995, becoming the county's first black judge.  Her stay there was brief, however, as she was ousted from office in the 1996 election.  Voters dismissed Staton, electing in her place Lenore Gelfman, a popular District Court judge.  Although Gelfman denied it, Staton's supporters claimed the winning judge's campaign was tinged with racism.  Governor Parris Glendening had created a special commission to increase diversity in Maryland's judiciary, and Staton's opponents alleged that her appointment was based on politics (and race) rather than qualifications.5

Although Staton lost the election and her seat on the bench, many recognized that she was an exceptional lawyer.  In another "first," she was offered and accepted a job as deputy attorney general for Maryland, making her the first African-American woman to hold that position.  The job also allowed Staton to fulfill her desire to stay in public service.  Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. expressed his satisfaction with Staton's decision:  "We're just delighted to have a superior legal talent."  As deputy attorney general, Staton is responsible for managing over 100 lawyers in about 25 areas of state government, including the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Transportation Department.6

Staton continues to enjoy success in professionally and personally.  In 2000 she was recognized by The Daily Record as one of Maryland's Top 100 Women.  She is happily married and has two daughters.  She remains a vital member of the legal community and will always have the honor of having been the first African-American judge in Howard County.


1.  "Howard jurist embraces new job; first black judge happy and welcome in circuit court."  The Baltimore Sun, 11 December 1995.

2.  "Race debate follows election; First black judge in county, Hill Staton, apparently defeated; Some blame 'racism;' Observers believe absentee ballots won't alter outcome." The Baltimore Sun, 7 November 1996.

3.  "Glendening Reapppoints Two, Names Five new Circuit Judges."  The Daily Record, 25 October 1995.

4.  "2 to challenge new judges in March primary; Candidates question the experience of governor's appointees; 'Not a training ground; 'Incumbents are first woman, black on circuit bench." The Baltimore Sun, 29 November 1995.

5.  The Daily Record.  "Maryland's Top 100 Women" (2000), on-line (

6.  Anna Borgman, "Staton Tapped for State Post; Former Circuit Judge to Be Deputy Attorney General." The Washington Post, 30 January 1997.

Biography written by Jennifer Copeland, 2002 summer intern, Maryland State Archives

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