When Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson Stanley was growing up in West Oakland, she faced her share of challenges that could have deterred her life’s journey. She credits her success, becoming the first African American woman elected to the bench in Alameda County, on listening to and following the right people, those she calls her “guardian angels.”
In the fifth-grade she moved to Vallejo, where she became a member of the track-and-field team at Vallejo High. She knew from an early age that she wanted to go to college and listened closely to the guidance of her Sunday School teacher who challenged her to get good grades. While a student at UC Berkeley, where she continued her track-and-field career, she agreed to live with her high school track coach and mentor, Mike Wilson, and his wife Hazel, whom she credits with giving her a positive environment in which she could flourish.
Stanley went on to earn an degree in legal studies from UC Berkeley and then graduated from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law in 1986. Stanley’s ambition to become a lawyer was inspired by the children’s book Harriet the Spy and the television series, Perry Mason. After becoming a member of the California State Bar in 1987, Judge Stanley became the assistant public defender/ trial attorney in the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, representing and defending criminal clients through preliminary hearings.
Then from 1991 to 2000 she started private practice with her own firm, the Law Offices of Trina Thompson Stanley.
“I wanted my own Della Street,” Stanley said, referring to her fondness of Perry Mason. This private practice emphasized criminal defense trials. She also handled cases involving juvenile dependency in adoptions and guardianship. In January 2001, Trina became a juvenile court commissioner of Alameda County Superior Court.
On Nov. 4, 2002, Stanley was elected to the bench, the first African American woman to have been elected in Alameda County, and she was sworn into office in January 2003.
As a judge, Stanley presides over felony and misdemeanor jury trials, preliminary hearings, civil case management, civil settlement conferences and, at one time, the Mentor Diversion Program for first-time offenders aged 18-24.
Stanley said she is particularly proud of her work in the Mentor Diversion Program, established by now-retired Judge Henry Ramsey. The program has been successful in helping to create a higher quality life for many kids, she said.
“It instilled a sense of pride in the kids and transformed their anger into love,” Stanley said. She said she routinely keeps track of one-time troubled youth that come through her court.
Stanley lectures nationally and has served as a legal commentator for the media. She also serves on a number of boards and associations, including California Young Lawyers, National Bar Association, American Bar Association, Alameda County Bar Association (past member), California Public Defender’s Association, Charles Houston Bar Association, Women Defender’s (past chairperson), California Attorney’s for Criminal Justice (CACJ past board member) and the Oakland Ensemble Theatre (past board member).
She is also the mother of a daughter, 9 and a son, 22.
All her time of the bench hasn’t kept her away from the track. She has kept running and is training for the Master’s Track Program for her age category. She said, “I love track because you have to take personal responsibility for the team effort.”