Pro Bono Summer Reading

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Gordon Cooney, John Thompson, and Michael Banks on the day of Mr. Thompson’s release from prison.

Looking for a pro bono-themed read for the upcoming long weekend?  In summers past, our suggestions have included the best-selling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, an article on feedback loops, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic To Kill A Mockingbird.

This year, we continue to be inspired by Dewey Bozella and the work of our friends at Fredrikson & Byron P.A.*†on behalf of Damon Thibodeaux, and have made selections that focus on pro bono work to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.  John Hollway and Ronald Gauthier’s Killing Time: An 18-Year Odyssey From Death Row To Freedom tells the true story of John Thompson, who, at age 22, was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the brutal murder of a wealthy, well-connected hotel executive in New Orleans.  Mr. Thompson spent 18 years in prison – 14 of them in solitary confinement on Angola’s Death Row – before pro bono lawyers, Michael Banks, Gordon Cooney, and their team from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP*†, were able to obtain a new trial for him.  In May 2003, the team retried the murder case.  The jury deliberated for just 35 minutes before finding Mr. Thompson not guilty of the murder. Mr. Thompson was released from custody and has been totally exonerated of any involvement in the crimes that led to his initial conviction.

According to the Innocence Project, there have been 306 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the U.S.  Pro bono work for the wrongfully convicted has the power to save lives, can prove rewarding for the attorneys who choose to take on such difficult cases, and helps ensure a fair and well-functioning criminal justice system that promotes equal justice for all. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that takes you through a heartfelt battle for justice, but prefer popular fiction, grab a copy of the John Grisham legal classic thriller, The Chamber, which tells the sensational tale of the pro bono representation of a death row inmate.

Do you have any pro bono-related summer reading recommendations?  Leave us a comment and let us know.

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And, as we say hello to the summer season this weekend with cookouts, swimming, baseball games, and shopping, don’t forget this Memorial Day holiday to honor and pay tribute to all the men and women who have died while in military service.  We are grateful to them and their families for their sacrifices and their service.  Providing pro bono assistance to eligible veterans is a unique opportunity for lawyers to exercise our patriotic duty and in some small way repay those who served our country.


* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

Hat tip to PBI intern Alex Wodarczyk for his help with this post.