This week Mark Curriden shares with us the compelling story of a 1906 legal drama that started with a false arrest for rape, a shameful trial that was chock full of abuse and gross injustice, and a lawyer named Noah Parden who along with the United States Supreme Court, made respect for the rule of law a gift to future generations of Americans.
Mark Curriden is a lawyer/journalist and founder of The Texas Lawbook. In addition, he is a contributing legal correspondent for The Houston Chronicle and the Dallas Business Journal.
Mark is the author of the best selling book Contempt of Court: A Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism. The book received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award and numerous other honors. He also is a frequent lecturer at bar associations, law firm retreats, judicial conferences and other events. His CLE presentations have been approved for ethics credit in nearly every state.
From 1988 to 1994, Mark was the legal affairs writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he covered the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He authored a three-part series of articles that exposed rampant use of drug dealers and criminals turned paid informants by local and federal law enforcement authorities, which led to Congressional oversight hearings. A related series of articles by Mark contributed to a wrongly convicted death row inmate being freed.
Mark’s book, Contempt of Court, tells the story of Ed Johnson, a young black man from Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1906. Johnson was falsely accused of rape, railroaded through the criminal justice system, found guilty and sentenced to death – all in three weeks. Two African-American lawyers stepped forward to represent Johnson on appeal. In doing so, they filed one of the first federal habeas petitions ever attempted in a state criminal case. The lawyers convinced the Supreme Court of the United States to stay Johnson’s execution. But before they could have him released, a lynch mob, aided by the sheriff and his deputies, lynched Johnson. Angered, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the sheriff and leaders of the mob, charging them with contempt of the Supreme Court. It is the only time in U.S. history that the Supreme Court conducted a criminal trial.
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