The Pulse

Lunch Links: Justice and Injustice

By: - March 6, 2014 12:56 pm

justice2We open today’s Lunch Links with an important public service announcement, particularly in light of the report out this week showing North Carolina still woefully behind other states in providing legal assistance to those who can’t afford an attorney — a number that unfortunately continues to grow.

Tomorrow, March 7, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the state Bar Association will host its annual “Ask a Lawyer Day,” during which callers can get free answers to legal questions and problems.  Here’s more information:

Statewide, there will be eight call centers filled with lawyers answering callers’ legal questions. Locally, lawyers will be manning the phones at the Volunteer Center, and Greensboro’s WFMY News 2 will be covering the event live. Anyone with legal questions may call the local call center by dialing 877.391.6179 and speak directly to a lawyer. A call center for Spanish speakers is available at 855.455.4255 between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. All calls are free and confidential– callers will not be asked for their name or contact information.

The event is part of the Bar Association’s “4ALL” campaign to raise support for Legal Aid.   Last year, close to 500 lawyers, paralegals, law students and other volunteers answered questions from nearly 10,000 callers.

Click here for the event announcement. Click here if you’d like to participate.

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Speaking of justice, and injustice, the U.S. Senate yesterday refused to confirm President Obama’s nominee for assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Debo Adegbile.  The reason?  Adegbile did his job as an attorney  when he was litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, representing Mumia Abu-Jamal on an appeal of his death sentence for killing a Philadelphia police officer decades ago.

That vote should be cause for concern for most attorneys, as well as for anyone who understands and believes that  “a fundamental tenet of our justice system and our Constitution is that anyone who faces loss of liberty has a right to legal counsel,” as the president of the American Bar Association, James R. Silkenat, explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Lawyers have an ethical obligation to uphold that principle and provide zealous representation to people who otherwise would stand alone against the power and resources of the government—even to those accused or convicted of terrible crimes,” he added

As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick says in this blistering critique of the Adegbile vote:

To be clear, then: Adegbile was not himself a cop-killer. He didn’t help a cop-killer get off and roam free with false claims of innocence. What he did do—which fits pretty readily within the historic mandate of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund—was to help ensure that the American criminal justice system, and especially the death penalty, is administered fairly and constitutionally. As a representative of an organization that is institutionally dedicated to ensuring that justice is administered fairly, he fought for fairness and judges agreed that unfairness occurred.

Once upon a time in America this was called advocating for justice. But in today’s America, it’s deemed a miscarriage of justice. And so the fact that Adegbile has long been one of the most skilled and principled civil rights attorneys in the country is cast by Senate Republicans as a kind of catastrophic public scam.

Lithwick was not alone in her attack on all Senate Republicans and the seven Democrats who voted no on Adegbile. Editorials across the country derided the vote, and Ari Berman at The Nation likened the Republican pre-vote smear campaign — labeling Adegbile a “cop killer” — to George Bush’s Willie Horton ad, proof that “race-based gutter politics are still not a thing of the past.”

Berman added:

In disqualifying Adegbile, senators are establishing a very dangerous precedent that attorneys are responsibile for all of the actions of their clients. “LDF’s advocacy on behalf of Mr. Abu-Jamal does not disqualify Mr. Adegbile from leading the Civil Rights Division,” prominent members of the Supreme Court bar wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. “To conclude otherwise would send the wrong message to any lawyer who is affiliated, or might be asked to become involved, with a difficult, unpopular case for the purpose of enforcing and preserving important constitutional principles.”

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On a lighter note, Full Frame Documentary Festival — on its way to Durham in April — released its lineup of films, with plenty of variety. Here’s just a few:

112 Weddings (Director: Doug Block)
Documentary filmmaker and part-time wedding videographer Doug Block tracks down couples he’s filmed over the years, contrasting past with present to see how love and life have unfolded after vows. World Premiere

Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory (Director: Michael Rossato-Bennett)
When a social worker discovers that music can unlock the memories of patients whose minds are clouded by dementia, he embarks on a mission to transform lives one iPod at a time.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way)
A celebratory portrait of the Portland Mavericks, who joined the minor leagues in 1973 as the lone single-A team without a major-league affiliation.

Freedom Summer (Director: Stanley Nelson)
Remarkable archival footage and unforgettable eyewitness accounts take us back to the summer of 1964, when hundreds of civil rights activists entered Mississippi to help enfranchise the state’s African American citizens.

The Case Against 8 (Directors: Ben Cotner, Ryan White)
This behind-the-scenes film, shot over five years, follows the unlikely team who fought to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage, and won.

WHITEY: United States of America V. James J. Bulger (Director: Joe Berlinger)
This true-crime doc examines the sensationalized trial of a notorious South Boston gangster and brings new allegations of law-enforcement corruption to light.

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Sharon McCloskey

Sharon McCloskey, former Courts, Law and Democracy Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch, writes about the courts and decisions that impact North Carolina residents. McCloskey also wrote for Lawyers Weekly and practiced law for more than 20 years. Follow her online at or @sharonmccloskey.