By Robert J. Hansen | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Carlton Davis, who was named judge of the year by the Wiley Manuel Bar Association on Oct. 20. (Rahul Lal, OBSERVER)
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Carlton Davis, who was named judge of the year by the Wiley Manuel Bar Association on Oct. 20. (Rahul Lal, OBSERVER)

The Wiley Manuel Bar Association honored two Sacramento attorneys and a Sacramento judge Oct. 20.

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to attorney Keith Staten and Attorney of the Year went to Sacramento Supervising Deputy County Counsel June Powells-Mays.

Staten, 63, has practiced mostly criminal law for more than 30 years and previously was awarded Attorney of the Year Wiley by Manuel Bar Association Staten in 2014.

“It actually made me stop and kind of humbled me a little bit,” Staten said.

Staten’s criminal law career, his work for the Greater Sacramento NAACP, speaking to law students and serving on several boards of directors all led to his receiving the award.

Staten represented Justin Gonzalez, who was found guilty in 2017 for a Yolo County murder but just last week was retried and acquitted.

“The major thing was they turned a defendant into a witness at the last minute,” Staten said. “The problem was the video [that was never released] showed that they coerced and coached her testimony. They fought to get this overturned and [Gonzalez] is in Oregon right now and I’m so happy.”

Staten in 2015 received the Judge James Long Community Service Award and in 2020 he was recognized for his social justice advocacy by the National Lawyers Guild. This year, he was selected for the Peace and Justice Award from the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution, housed at Sacramento State, for his work educating the public with his “Know Your Rights” lectures designed to reduce confrontations with law enforcement.

Staten said the late Judge Jimmy Long was instrumental in his career.

“He was someone who took me in as a lawyer, as a young puppy, that taught me the ropes here,” Staten said.

Staten, who has a criminal record, said he hadn’t considered becoming a lawyer before a coach at San Francisco State University encouraged him to pursue a legal career.

“I realized that everything that’s done in society, lawyers have their hands on it,” Staten said.

Powells-Mays, a past president of Wiley Manuel, said it was a tremendous honor. She has been on the board of directors for the county’s bar association and has mentored many young lawyers.

“I think it was based upon my body of work throughout the years,” she said. “It was not any one thing but a combination of things. Based upon my contributions to the greater Sacramento community and especially to attorneys of color.”

Sacramento County employs 51 attorneys; Powells-Mays is one of three Black attorneys for the county and the only supervisor. She has been an attorney for the county since 1999.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Carlton Davis was awarded Judge of the Year for his service to the community.

Davis said he swore in the new Wiley Manuel board and created a mentorship program with McGeorge School of Law for minority law students so that they can have networking opportunities with attorneys in the field of law they want to enter.

“We had an event in February where about 60 people showed up where law students were able to meet with lawyers, question them about their careers and were assigned mentors,” Davis said.

Davis has been a court commissioner since 2017. He was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020 and oversees criminal law cases.

“I was the first Black man appointed in like 18 or 20 years,” Davis said.

He said he is one of roughly six Black judges among 80 in Sacramento County’s court system.

Davis, a Sacramento native, said he never thought he could become a judge because he never saw a Black judge.

“I didn’t know it was even possible for a Black man to be a judge,” Davis said.

Davis said that throughout his life people have inspired him to become an attorney and then judges who thought highly of him encouraged him to become a judge.

“On my own that wasn’t something that I thought was even possible because I didn’t feel I was connected. You don’t know what you can aspire to be unless you go out into your community,” Davis said.