TJSL students interning in Washington, D.C. attended an exclusive screening of “Gideon's Army” on Friday June 21, at the National Portrait Gallery.
As Ford Foundation's VIP guests, Randy Abreu (3L), Samantha Morales (3L), and Christina Hebert (2L) held front row seats. Sitting in front of them and giving opening remarks to the film was the 82nd Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder.
Producer Dawn Porter used the documentary film to expose the struggles faced by public defenders in the South and answer the all too common question many defense attorneys are asked: “How can you defend those people?” For public defenders like June Hardwick, Travis Williams, and Brandy Alexander, defending the indigent is about protecting their civil rights in a broken criminal justice system.
“The public defender struggle is a narrative rarely told. I was at a loss for words the entire time. The documentary was great and will go a long way towards advancing the next generation of lawyers who strongly believe the rights in our Constitution apply to everyone and not just a select few,” said Abreu.
The Gideon's Promise organization was founded in light of the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright in which the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the 14th Amendment guaranteed the right for court appointed defense counsel for those who could not afford to pay for it. The organization provides training and support to public defenders like Hardwick, Williams, and Alexander in a field where many give up after facing long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads. Founder Jonathan Rapping considers public defenders to be the “ultimate guardians of the Constitution”.
“It was inspiring to see firsthand that others are taking up the fight, standing up against insurmountable odds and speaking up for those whom society would disregard,” said Hebert.
The movie was followed by a panel discussion led by NPR's Ailsa Chang. Panelists included Jonathan Rapping, founder and president of Gideon's Promise, Norris Henderson, who spent 27 years wrongfully incarcerated for murder and current Director for Voices of the Ex-Offenders, and Dallas County District Attorney, Craig Williams. The public defenders from the film, June Hardwick, Travis Williams, and Brandy Alexander made a guest appearance together.
“The highlight of the evening was meeting the dedicated public defenders from the movie. I was able to ask them what keeps them going each day and have a heartfelt conversation with June Hardwick about her struggles as a working mother. They love what they do and I admire them for their commitment to improving our justice system,” said Morales.
The documentary airs on HBO on July 1st.