Posts Tagged ‘John Grisham’

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/l/larryfarr/10/l/13817963898k84q.jpgOver the holidays, I finished reading lawyer and social activist Bryan Stevenson’s extraordinary memoir, Just Mercy. Not only does Stevenson humanize the incarcerated by telling their stories but he goes marrow deep in describing endemic injustices in our criminal justice system.

Perhaps it’s because so many of the lawyers I’ve come to like and admire are criminal defense attorneys that I’ve found myself reading to understand their work. The best of them are lawyers who despite the odds remain willing to represent defendants who New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin once wrote are “treated as just another fungible item to be shuffled along on a criminal-justice conveyor belt.”

In reading books like Just Mercy, I follow a thread begun when I first picked up David Cole’s 1999 seminal standard, No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System. I later read John Grisham’s The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. Grisham’s nonfiction book left me disgusted and angry. That book was followed by Steven Bogira’s Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse.

And more recently still tripping the outrage meter, there’s been Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces and Michael Cicchini’s Tried and Convicted: How Police, Prosecutors, and Judges Destroy Our Constitutional Rights.

These aren’t books just for lawyers. Every U.S. resident should read them. Forewarned is forearmed. Indeed, Cicchini’s latest, the equally excellent, Convicting Avery: The Bizarre Laws and Broken System behind “Making a Murderer,” to be published in April, will hopefully all but ensure average citizens do all they can to stay far away from the machinery of criminal justice. Too many times, it seems, the sad message for the Average Joe and Jane coming from unequal justice literature is if you don’t have money for a defense — you’re going to get screwed.

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/c/click/preview/fldr_2008_11_08/file000521358819.jpgAll of which gets me back to Just Mercy and what’s stayed with me since reading it. It was the chapter almost near the end of the book where Stevenson talks about the one night 25 years into his fight against excessive punishment, mass incarceration, and racial and economic injustice, and when at extremely low ebb, he despairs over our “broken system of justice.” He is ready to stop. “I can’t do this anymore,” he writes. “I can just leave. Why am I doing this?”

But through his soul crisis, he comes to a powerful epiphany. Stevenson writes: “My years of struggling against inequality, abusive power, poverty, oppression, and injustice had finally revealed something to me about myself. Being close to suffering, death, executions, and cruel punishments didn’t just illuminate the brokenness of others; in a moment of anguish and heartbreak, it also exposed my own brokenness. You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it.

“We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/o/Oleander/12/l/1418846725d5h3t.jpgAnd then in one of the book’s most arrestingly inspirational passages, Stevenson cites a quote  once heard and attributed to writer Thomas Merton, “We are bodies of broken bones. I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we are fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.

“We have a choice. We can embrace our humaneness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”

In his Ted talk below, Bryan Stevenson revisits this and more, including “The opposite of poverty is justice.” For more insights watch the video and read Just Mercy.


Credits: Morguefile.com, no attribution license.


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“Don’t believe everything you read in the Austin American-Statesman,” Texas Governor and Republican hopeful Rick Perry told Fox News‘ Neil Cavuto as he blasted the Austin American-Statesman at last Thursday’s final GOP candidates debate before Iowa’s January 3rd caucuses. Perry’s slam was in response to Cavuto’s question about Perry’s time as Texas agriculture commissioner and “a loan guarantee program that, as the Austin American-Statesman reported at the time, had so many defaults that the state had to stop guaranteeing bank loans to start-ups in the agribusiness, and eventually bailed out the program with the taxpayer money.”

Judges Gavel

I don’t know about any loan program or whether extra circumspection’s required when reading the Austin American-Statesman. But I do know that the Austin, Texas newspaper has been carrying news stories about something far worse in Texas. And it has nothing to do with Perry.

It’s the injustice visited upon Michael Morton, wrongfully convicted in 1987 of murdering his wife, Christine, and who is scheduled to be officially exonerated today after some 25 years in prison. He was released last October. See Michael Morton case | Austin Legal – Statesman.com and Alberta Phillips’ Op-Ed, Sadly, justice for Michael Morton 25 years too late – Statesman.com.

The news story has also made the national wires and is being carried by all the major news outlets, suggesting that notwithstanding its purportedly credibility-challenged source, heed should be taken.

Despite “Brady,” a recurring problem.

Several years ago, I was so infuriated after reading “the litany of legal outrages” in John Grisham’s nonfiction story of police and prosecutorial abuses attendant the wrongful conviction of Ron Williamson, “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town,” that I bought extra copies of Grisham’s book to give away to friends. This was after first having urged them to read it.

For those happily sanguine in their belief in a fair criminal justice system and the presumption of innocence, read Grisham’s book about what happened to Ron Williamson in Ada, Texas.

And according to The Innocence Project, the problem may extend beyond a small Texas town, as “More people have been freed through DNA testing in Texas than in any other state in the country, and these exonerations have revealed deep flaws in the state’s criminal justice system.” See “Innocence Blog: Reducing Wrongful Convictions in Texas.”

Michael Morton.

As though more corroboration was necessary, there’s the case of Michael Morton, the former grocery store clerk who served almost a quarter century’s worth of a life sentence. The truth will yet out but as of now, it appears Morton should have never been convicted had a prominent prosecutor and now county judge, Ken Anderson, and then prosecutor Mike Davis, now a private practice lawyer, and current District Attorney John Bradley shared potentially exculpatory evidence with the defense – – – as required under Brady v. Maryland 373 U. S. 83.

But then this is a recurring problem not only in Texas but elsewhere like the case of Connick v. Thompson, which I blogged about at No proof of “deliberate indifference” as prosecutorial bacon is saved by high court.” As the Connick case bore out, however, to bring prosecutors to account remains tougher than passing a stone.
Nonetheless, grievances have been filed in the Morton case alleging violation of ethics rules by the Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability against the three former or current Williamson County prosecutors involved in the Morton case.
The Texas State Bar is being asked to discipline the trial prosecutors. They cite news reports that Anderson and Davis violated their prosecutorial duty by failing to provide Morton’s trial lawyers with exculpatory evidence. And they further contend that Morton’s time in prison was needlessly prolonged by six more years due to Bradley’s opposition to DNA tests requested by Morton’s legal team. Bradley, Anderson and Davis have repeatedly denied taking any improprieties. See Ken Anderson grievance with narrative and exhibits and “Exonerated of Murder, Texan Seeks Inquiry on Prosecutor.”

Judge Anderson has also apologized for “the system’s failure” but not for anything he did. “In my heart, I know there was no misconduct whatsoever,” he said.

Meanwhile, Morton tries to rebuild his life. One report,Court affirms Morton’s innocence,” says that following his release, he spent an hour in the backyard of his parents’ home just watching the squirrels at play.



Photo Credits: “Ouch, Kidney Stones Suck,” by Terry Martin, iPhone Developer, at http://www.tzmartin.com and via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution and share alike distribution at Flickr.

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