Friday night, I attended the first ever Innocence Project of Florida dinner. I was invited by a
close, personal Twitter follower board member, and upon acceptance, asked by someone in one of my Google+ circles the Incoming Chair of the Innocence of Project of Florida to turn over a fairly large amount of cash to be a co-sponsor. Apparently, while Holland & Knight was receiving an award for their thousands of hours helping to free the wrongfully convicted, money for the dinner wasn’t pouring in from the establishment. Maybe next year.
As lawyer-type dinners go, it was a little different — poor lawyers representing alleged violent criminals mixed with Biglaw lawyers who spent the last decade doing the same, as well as three dozen judges, the elected state attorney, the appointed United States Attorney, and a slew of law students. Also in the crowd were a half-dozen exonerees. The exonerees included James Bain, who served more time than any other exoneree — 35 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He went to jail when I was four years old, and got out as I was planning a trip for my 40th birthday.
The night had its share of speeches and awards. One of the awards went to lawyer Marty McClain, whose client, Juan Melendez, was there among the suits wearing a t-shirt. Juan spent 17 years, eight months, and one day on death row before being exonerated. Marty’s other client, Frank Lee Smith, couldn’t make it because he died of cancer on death row before being exonerated. At his table was Marty’s high school buddy, actor Tony Shalhoub, who looked like a stalking fan taking pictures on his phone when his lawyer-friend was honored for being poor and a hero. While people were asking Shalhoub for pictures and autographs, he was busy being enamored with Marty….