Donna Hill Staton was Howard County’s first African-American judge after being appointed to the bench in 1995. After serving as a judge, she was offered and accepted a job as deputy attorney general for Maryland, making her the first African-American woman to hold that position as well.
Hill Staton has left a legacy not only in the field of law, but also in the ranks of Leadership Howard County (LHC). Her mother and her husband are LHC graduates, and her oldest daughter graduated from Leadership U.
Hill Staton said she found her LHC experience both fascinating and intriguing. “I had always been a service-oriented person, and Leadership Howard County allowed me to peek behind the curtain to see who was serving our community and who was in need,” she said.
LHC also helped her understand the extent of services offered by nonprofits, businesses and local government, she added. “I began to be able to see some of the challenges people face when they try to deliver services. Leadership Howard County gave me a great foundation of learning in this way, and I began to think even more about the ways I could contribute.”
Early LHC Memories
Hill Staton’s mother, Ethel M. B. Hill, is an attorney who is also an LHC graduate but, in a turnaround of the usual parent-child timelines, she graduated from LHC in 1994 — a year after her daughter.
“I did hear from Donna about her experience, and I went through Leadership Howard County after her,” recalled Hill. “At that time, I was about to retire, and I wanted to learn more about who the players were in other sectors.”
While in LHC, Hill served as co-chair of the program committee. She remembers contacting and introducing as a speaker Katherine Graham, who led her family’s newspaper, The Washington Post, for more than two decades.
“It was such a highlight and a privilege for me to do that,” Hill said.
At least some of Hill’s LHC classmates were people she had already known for years. “There were people in Leadership with me who had served with me on Columbia’s village boards in the 1970s. I served on a village board at that time and subsequently went to law school. It was enjoyable to see them again in the Leadership context.”
Both Hill Staton and her mother reflected that LHC helped them redefine the ways in which they could contribute to their community. “I began thinking more about the ways in which I could plug in to the wonderful work that was already taking place,” said Hill Staton.
She enjoyed being part of a group in which people were considered “insiders” in their sector. She particularly remembers LHC classmates from The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, FIRN (a nonprofit that helps immigrants, refugees and others access community resources) and the county government.
“I was never bored because I learned so much that I never knew, even though I had lived in the county since 1969,” she said. Through LHC, she also had a sense of watching the county change and had a chance to evaluate, with her classmates, where the communities had been historically and where they were going.
Long-Term Love for Community
Hill Staton’s dedication to Howard County has been at the forefront of her persona for decades. She attended Wilde Lake High School, playing for the school’s basketball team and running track, then earned 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.
Her community involvement is extensive. She has served 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.
Hill Staton also has served on the Business Advisory Council for the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, on the board of trustees for the McDonough School, 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 also has participated in Goucher College’s Mentor Program.
Through it all, she credits LHC with helping her better understand what makes her own community tick. “It’s a combination of all the specific things you learn,” she said. “LHC just becomes a part of you.”