Lawrence concert to celebrate 60 years of the right to defense counsel

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Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that requires states to provide attorneys for people charged with felonies if they can’t afford to retain counsel. Lawrence-area public defenders are celebrating, and all are invited.

The event is set for 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18 at White Schoolhouse, 1510 N. Third St. in North Lawrence. It’ll be $10 for adults to enter, with proceeds going to pay the bands. Kids will be admitted for free.

White Schoolhouse principal Jennifer Roth, a career public defender, looks forward to this coming together of her passions: public defense, live music, and community, according to a news release from organizers.

“We could not let the 60th anniversary of Gideon go by without celebrating the work of public defenders and appointed counsel, and thanking those who support and sufficiently fund them,” Roth said in the release.

In a unanimous decision in Gideon v. Wainwright on March 18, 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel.

“Speakers between bands will talk about the importance of public defense, and tell the story of Clarence Earl Gideon, whose case transformed the course of legal history and established the fundamental principal that ‘lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries,'” according to the release.

The concert joins shows in other states across the country, in partnership with Concerts for Indigent Defense and National Association for Public Defense, according to the release.

There will be 15 musicians in the show, and each of the three acts has at least one member who is an attorney, according to the release.

Contributed photo Frydman & Harris

“We will be sure to include songs that feature both good and bad characters, criminal defendants, hammers of justice and bells of freedom,” Rick Frydman — defense attorney and half of country-folk duo Frydman & Harris with wife Lisa Harris-Frydman — said in the release. “We look forward to celebrating 60 years of the right to counsel. It’s worth singing about!”

Other performers in the lineup include BongoTini — which came about when “Richard (Rocco) Walker, whacked out on the weird and wonderful tunes served weekly on KPR’s Retro Cocktail Hour, decided to gather some interested musicians to rehearse and perform some of those tunes for interested music-lovers” — and Possum Boy, a five-piece, multigenerational band that features Lane Williams, legal director for Disability Rights Center of Kansas, and Dave Summers, a personal injury attorney in Missouri.

Lori James-Townes, National Association for Public Defense executive director, said in the release that modern public defense began with the SCOTUS ruling in Gideon.

“Yet for too many, particularly low income and communities of color, this right is too often ignored, even though the Supreme Court has made clear the Right to Counsel extends to people who can’t afford representation,” James-Townes said in the release. “Too many cities, counties and states are failing their communities due to the unfulfilled promises of Gideon by not providing their citizens with well-resourced and adequate representation.” 

Organizations that provide public defense will be on hand to answer questions and provide information, and the Raven Book Store will have books about Gideon and the criminal legal system for sale, according to the release.

Check out the Facebook event page for more details.

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