Joseph Stanalonis (l) and David Densford at an election debate
Upper Marlboro, MD – Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Melanie M. Shaw Geter ruled Tuesday, Dec. 9 that of the three grievances brought by the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland against St. Mary’s County Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph M. Stanalonis, only one has any merit.
St. Mary’s County Circuit Court Judge David W. Densford alleged that Stanalonis had falsely accused him during the 2012 campaign for circuit court judge of never having sentenced a single criminal to jail, that Densford opposed the right to elect judges and that the sitting judge opposed registration of convicted sexual predators.
Of the three accusations, Shaw Geter determined that only one of the allegations was improper, that Densford opposed the registration of convicted sexual offenders.
Shaw Geter said Stanalonis acted with “reckless disregard” when he alleged during the 2012 campaign that the sitting judge opposed registration of convicted sexual predators, but decided that while Stanalonis did make that allegation, “This court finds the testimony of both Judge Densford and Respondent equally compelling,” Shaw Geter wrote in her determination. “Because of Densford’s history as a defense attorney and discussions with several assistant state’s attorneys, Respondent (Stanalonis) had a demonstrative basis for believing that Densford opposed the Sex Offender Registry. Additionally, he sought input on the issue from his campaign volunteers and no one disputed the veracity of this assertion.
“However,” Shaw Geter added, “this court finds that the Respondent was obligated to make a more substantial effort in ensuring the accuracy of the proffered statement, and he failed to do so.”
The court ruled in Stanalonis’ favor on the other two issues, finding that Densford testified in his taped deposition that as of the time Stanalonis made his claim that he had never sentenced a single criminal to jail, that he [Densford] had only been on the bench for six months and at the time of his opponent’s assertion, on or about March 27, 2014, and had not sentenced anyone to jail at that time.
In the matter of Stanalonis’ campaign material which alleged Densford opposed citizens’ rights to elect judges, Shaw Geter admitted, that “Stanalonis’ reliance on the judge’s stance at the [St. Mary’s County] Bar Association meeting, as the basis for his statement, was not entirely improper.”
Although the bar did vote to adopt a resolution adopting the Maryland State Bar Association’s position of opposing contested judicial elections, at the March 2012 meeting of the St. Mary’s Bar Association, the court found there was a motion to “reopen the vote from the February meeting on the issue of contested judicial elections.”
The motion did not pass and the vote was not reopened, but a subsequent motion to release the results of the February vote to the public, a motion Densford supported.
The court ruled that “while Stanalonis may have been mistaken, and in fact negligent, he did not intentionally make a false statement.”
What will happen in the wake of the judge’s ruling is not immediately clear. Calls to the respective attorneys in the case have not been returned.
Contact Joseph Norris at email@example.com