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Law, Journalism, and Justice March 24

  • 4:30 pm - 8:00 pm
  • School of Law Room 204

Sponsored by the School of Law Criminal Justice Program and
Duquesne University Department of Journalism and Multimedia Arts

Mark Curriden, author of
Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching that Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism

Law, Journalism, and Justice will consider the intersection of law and journalism. Mark Curriden will discuss how investigative and storytelling skills that journalists develop can be put to use by lawyers to improve advocacy, and why journalists hold a critical role in illuminating the law.

Curriden will use his best-selling book to illustrate the value of overlapping the two professions and fields of study. Contempt of Court tells a powerful story of African American lawyers in late 19th century who risked their reputations to take on the case of a man wrongfully accused. The book thus provides examples of the value of legal knowledge to journalists telling America's stories. It is also a call to arms for lawyers. While sacrifices made by the particular lawyers may no longer be necessary, the law is a sacred calling. Nothing less than the lives and liberty of innocent citizens and the preservation of fundamental values depend upon the willingness of lawyers to represent unpopular clients, perhaps even at substantial person cost.

Schedule of Events

4:30 - 5:30 p.m.  Public Lecture, Room 204
5:30 -6:30 p.m.  Reception, Lower Student Lounge
6:30 - 8 p.m.  Fact Investigations Class Lecture, Room 301   (closed to the public)


The public lecture and reception are free. REGISTER today.

Learn More

A century ago, Ed Johnson, a young black man in Chattanooga, Tenn., was falsely accused of rape, railroaded through the criminal justice system and sentenced to death - all in three weeks. Twice, a lynch mob attacked the jail before the trial. A juror threatened to kill Johnson in the middle of the trial. His court-appointed lawyers, who had begged the judge to not force them to defend Johnson, abandoned the defendant before and after the trial. The judge refused to allow his lawyers to file motions protecting the defendant's rights and ordered the defense attorneys to convince Johnson to waive his right to appeal. Nothing short of the rule of law was in jeopardy.

Two African-American lawyers - Noah Parden was a family lawyer and Styles Hutchins was a civil trial attorney - stepped forward to defend Johnson pro bono in a surprise, last minute appeal. When the state Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal, Parden and Hutchins did something no lawyer in American history had ever accomplished. They filed the first successful federal habeas corpus action in a state criminal case, claiming that their client's rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution had been violated.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its first stay of an execution in a state death penalty matter and agreed to hear the matter within 30 days. But before the justices could act, an angry mob assisted by the county sheriff, raided the jail and lynched Johnson. Parden and Hutchins convinced the Attorney General and the Supreme Court to charge the sheriff, his deputies and leaders of the mob with criminal contempt of the Supreme Court. This led to the only criminal trial ever held in the history of the nation's highest court.

The lecture will address many of the biggest legal issues that remain even today, including:

  • The role of lawyers zealously advocating and defending a politically unpopular client who is the scourge of society;
  • The responsibility of lawyers who face financial ruin or even death threats due to their representation of a client;
    Judicial independence;
  • Protection of the rule of law, especially in the face of outside influences on the administration of justice;
  • Role of lawyers in using the media pretrial to influence the public and taint the jury pool.

About Mark Curriden

Mark Curriden is an award-winning legal journalist, bestselling author, and frequent lecturer at legal organizations across the country. Educated as a lawyer, Mark is a senior writer for the ABA Journal, which is the nation's largest legal publication, and a regular contributor to the New York Times' DealBook on matters of corporate and business law. He also holds the position of writer-in-residence at the SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas.