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Deep Delta Justice: A Black Teen, His Lawyer and Their Groundbreaking Battle for Civil Rights in the South

Total Credits
0.5 - 1.12
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Join us for a very special event as Matthew Van Meter discusses his book Deep Delta Justice, the book that inspired the documentary A Crime on the Bayou.

The book tells the “astonishing history” of a lawyer and his defendant who together achieved a “civil rights milestone.” . Van Meter revisits Duncan v. Louisiana, the 1968 landmark Supreme Court decision which affirmed that the constitutional right to a jury trail applied to state courts.

It started with the 1966 arrest of a 19-year-old black man, Gary Duncan, for allegedly striking a white boy in Plaquemines Parish, La. Convicted of misdemeanor battery, he was sentenced to 60 days in prison but appealed on the basis that Louisiana’s trial jury statutes violated his Sixth Amendment rights. The appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court, where his conviction was overturned, but throughout the process, forces aligned with local political boss and noted “racist” Leander Perez who fought to have Duncan’s attorney barred from Louisiana courtrooms for practicing law without a state license—a legal strategy designed to blunt the effectiveness of civil rights lawyers across the South.

Using interviews and oral histories to bring the case’s major players to life, Van Meter illustrates how many of the issues involved—voter suppression, public funding for private schools, racial inequalities in the criminal justice system—are still being legislated today.

“This deeply researched and vividly written chronicle is the definitive account of one of the civil rights movement’s most unheralded victories.” -- Publishers Weekly

Lecturer Bios

Alan Fell, Esq.

Alan Fell is a Partner at Rick Steiner Fell & Benowitz LLP.

Alan Fell’s 40 years of legal experience in the areas of real estate, trusts and estates, and health law have earned him a large and loyal client base composed of small and mid-size businesses. He successfully combines business and personal relationships with his clients that often transcend the typical lawyer-client relationships one finds in many large firms.

A former member of the Surrogate's Court Advisory Committee of the Office of Court Administration, Mr. Fell is highly regarded for his thorough knowledge and expertise on all aspects of trusts and estates. As part of his practice, Mr. Fell provides sophisticated estate planning services, involving everything from administration to litigation, from drafting wills to drafting trust agreements. Mr. Fell's expertise extends to charitable remainder and charitable lead trusts, grantor retained annuity trusts and qualified personal residence trusts. Mr. Fell offers lectures on trusts and estates for trade associations and charities. He has held numerous court appointments.

In his corporate practice, Mr. Fell is involved in the formation of corporations, partnerships, limited liability entities and the drafting of shareholder agreements, partnership agreements, operating agreements and employment agreements. In the area of real estate, he has focused his practice on all essential aspects of both commercial and residential real property. Mr. Fell represents a wide range of medical group practices and handles all aspects of law in the creation of such practices, including compliance issues and negotiating contracts with hospitals. Mr. Fell earned his J.D. from Temple School of Law in 1974

Matthew Van Meter

Matthew works with people whose voices have been ignored or silenced. As a reporter, he covers criminal justice stories, focusing on the experiences of people whose lives have been upended by law enforcement and corrections. And as co-facilitator and Assistant Director of Shakespeare in Prison, he supports the work of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people as they use the exploration of Shakespeare's plays to empower themselves and each other.

Growing up Quaker in various rural communities in the Northeast, Matthew acquired an early interest in peace and social justice. Before transitioning to work as a journalist and prison theatre facilitator, he followed in his parents' footsteps by working at high schools—he taught in Delaware, Michigan, and Moscow, Russia. He graduated from Middlebury College and Columbia University School of the Arts.

Matthew studied Russian in college and lived in Russia for three years. He was a columnist for Russia Profile, an English-language news site that was shuttered by the Putin administration. There, he covered topics ranging from wealth inequality in Ukraine's rust belt to the use of abortion as Russia's primary means of contraception. Since returning to the United States, he has thrown himself into covering the criminal justice system. His reporting has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, Longreads, The Awl, and the Quaker magazine Friends Journal.

Now based in the city of Detroit, Matthew is slowly learning to play euchre, say "pop" and "inkpen," and otherwise acquire Michigan bona fides. And when he is not reporting or working at prison, he teaches at University Liggett School and College for Creative Studies. He is still a practicing Quaker.

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