Outgoing DA leaves legacy of professionalism

Aug. 18, 2014 @ 04:57 PM

Leon Stanback never forgot one thing his parents taught him: Treat people with respect.

As a Superior Court judge and interim district attorney for Durham, Stanback tried to show everyone courtesy -- even people convicted of horrible crimes.
“I’ve sentenced people to 40 years in prison and had them say: ‘Thank you, judge,’” Stanback said in an interview. “I always let them have their say before imposing a sentence.”
Stanback announced Friday he’ll step down as Durham’s top prosecutor Aug. 31 after more than two years in the office. Gov. Beverly Perdue named Stanback to the job after Tracey Cline was removed from office for misconduct after a public feud with Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson.
Roger Echols, chief assistant prosecutor who is running unopposed for Durham district attorney in November, was named by Gov. Pat McCrory to take over the office Sept. 1.
Stanback threw his support to Echols in the spring primary and was his top campaign contributor.
“I think the District Attorney’s Office will be in good hands with Roger Echols,” Stanback said.
Stanback, who turns 72 in November, has no plans to retire to a rocking chair.
As a certified mediator, he said he’ll probably do mediation work and perhaps join a law firm.
Stanback also hopes to return to his favorite sport – golfing -- “if I can get my skills back together. I’ve sort of lost my golfing skills since I’ve been in this office.”
He also enjoys swimming and pier fishing at the Outer Banks.
Before he became a judge, Stanback, a Hillsborough native, served on the North Carolina State Parole Commission for four years. He was named to the bench in 1989 to fill a vacancy created by the death of Durham County Superior Court Judge Thomas Lee. Stanback was elected to the bench for two eight-year terms and retired before becoming interim district attorney.
Stanback comes from a family of educators. His father was principal of Central High School in Hillsborough and his mother taught French and English there, so the young Stanback knew he had to behave like the Boy Scout he was.
“That was a lot of pressure,” he said with a laugh.
Stanback graduated from N.C. Central University, and in 1968, completed law school there. He was an assistant prosecutor in Greensboro in the 1970s.
The best thing about serving as Durham’s district attorney has been helping to mentor young lawyers, he said.
“I’ve really enjoyed that,” he said. “We have a good staff here in this office. I’ve seen them develop into fine attorneys, with high moral character.”
The most challenging part of the job has been “getting grants approved to keep my folks working,” he said. The office has four grant positions, including a recently added jail prosecutor “who we hope will cut down on the length of time people have to stay in jail” before their cases are heard.
As Stanback prepares to leave office, he says he’d like to be remembered as a person who was “competent, efficient and courteous.”
“One thing my parents taught me was to treat everyone with respect,” he said. “I’ve found throughout the years that that will pay off. When you’re a judge, you’re sitting on the bench, and everybody knows where the buck stops. So you don’t have to jump on people and step on them.”
Stanback said he will continue to live in Durham and enjoy good memories of his career.
“I’ve been blessed,” Stanback said. “It’s been an excellent life.”