Man to Watch: U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III

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The sign-in pens in the United States attorney's office in the federal building have real flowers on the end of them. How about that?

The significance? Zero. But you take your color wherever you can find it in the federal building. Down-to-earth, conversational and opinionated as they may be off the job, feds are invariably somewhat robot-like in public in their official capacity.

Edward Stanton III, the current United States attorney, is no exception. I stopped by recently to get acquainted and found the 40-year-old Stanton polite, professional, dedicated to justice, and, like seven of his predecessors I have known, as guarded as a bulldog with a ham bone when the topic is politics.

They pay their political dues to get appointed by the President on the recommendation of the senior members of Congress from their party (interim United States attorneys are an exception and usually career prosecutors). Then they are supposed to put politics aside when facing some tough calls about public corruption cases. West Tennessee District has a long record of high-profile cases like Tennessee Waltz and Tarnished Blue and Main Street Sweeper.

The process isn't automatic, but if form holds, whether or not Stanton is in office in a year or so will depend on who wins the election in November. Stanton is a Democrat, appointed in 2010 by Barack Obama. His predecessor, David Kustoff, was a politically active Republican appointed by President George W. Bush. Stanton was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Congress against Steve Cohen. His father is General Sessions Court Clerk Ed Stanton Jr. Ed III was a national advance team member for Clinton/Gore ‘96 in Washington, D.C., from July 1996 to November 1996. He has also worked as a corporate attorney for FedEx and in the office of Charles Carpenter, a political strategist for former Mayor Herenton.

“I want to be clear that what I do is not political,” he said. “The dictates of this job are very apolitical.”

In 2011, Stanton and officials from the Justice Department in Washington D.C. went to the National Civil Rights Museum to announce the formation of a new civil rights unit to be headed by veteran Memphis prosecutor Steve Parker. In August, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee approved a consent order in Fayette County, which the Department of Justice negotiated with the Board of Education and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund to desegregate the Fayette County public schools.

It requires the district to implement a controlled choice program, close two schools, construct a new one, revise attendance zone lines, and monitor its schools to achieve a racial balance within 15 percent of the county at large.

“This consent order is a significant landmark in this desegregation case, which dates back to 1965,” Stanton had said in a prepared statement that made me wonder if the Justice Department plans to become more involved in school desegregation in Memphis and Shelby County.

“At this point the Department of Justice is not a party to that,” he told me. “We were a party early on and the litigants agreed to dismiss the Department of Justice.”

He said there is little connection between the Fayette County and Shelby County schools cases.

“Certainly, we are interested in seeing that federal laws are upheld across the board, not only in Shelby County and Fayette County but across this district in all aspects,” he said.

As for the Shelby County cases scheduled to start this week and in November in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Samuel H. Mays, “We stay apprised of the developments, that's for sure.”

He has a personal interest, too. Stanton grew up in Memphis and attended Idlewild Elementary School, Bellevue Junior High, Central High School. He got his college undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Memphis.

His priorities, he said, are domestic and international terrorism, “worst of the worst” gun crime, a teaching certification scam, the Safe Street Task Force, Project Safe Neighborhoods, Internet crime, social media predators, and human trafficing, which has spiked in Memphis as a distribution center for all kinds of things. A defendant nicknamed “T-Rex” is scheduled to go on trial later this year.

With no ammo of my own to fire at Stanton, I tried baiting him with a week-old quote from Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor, state prosecutor, and television commentator long since freed from the bonds of circumspection.

“They are meek and weak-kneed when it comes to the big institutions, and then they pick out these almost insignificant cases as if to prove they’re tough,” Spitzer said, talking about the Justice Department and Goldman Sachs.

Stanton smiled and declined to take the bait.

“Our work in the Western District speaks for itself in this department, as well as the Department of Justice,” he said. “That doesn't have anything to do with what I am doing now as a federal law enforcement official in West Tennessee.”

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