Contempt of Court:

A Lynching that Forever Changed the Practice of Law

A century ago, a young black man from Tennessee was falsely accused of rape and railroaded through the criminal justice system. The judge appointed unqualified lawyers and told them they didn't have to do any work on his case. Those lawyers convinced their client to waive his rights to appeal and accept the death sentence.

The only two African-American lawyers practicing in Tennessee and Georgia stepped forward to file the first federal habeas corpus petition in a state criminal case on his behalf. They convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, only to have an angry lynch mob burn their homes, chase them out of town and murder their client.


The Virginia State Bar Association has invited Mark to make his Contempt of Court CLE presentation three times, including most recently on March 3. Click here to see the program's brochure.


This CLE Ethics program chronicles the amazing story of Ed Johnson and his two heroic lawyers – a story buried in dusty old law books for decades and brought to life by lawyer/journalist Mark Curriden.

This historical story features the first lawyers of color to be lead counsel in a case before the Supreme Court. It also showcases the first and only criminal trial ever conducted before the Supreme Court. Experts say this little known case dramatically reformed the American justice system and redefined the practice of law.

This CLE exemplifies why lawyers as advocates for the poor and downtrodden are best positioned to take the steps necessary to uphold the rule of law.  Through the eyes and actions of the lawyers in this case, attorneys are able to see what it is like to represent a client who is a curse on society.  And it also shows how lawyers should use the law and the courts for the protection of individual rights even when the courts themselves are part of the problem. This case is a gut-check for lawyers about why they entered the legal profession.

The Contempt of Court CLE is idea for either a one-hour program over lunch or dinner or a three-hour CLE. It is the idea CLE for diversity programs, luncheon programs that promote pro bono efforts and law firm retreats. 

For more information about Mark's CLE's, please contact Mark Curriden at 214.232.6783 or

"This is an amazing story that every lawyer should know. Its about the rule of law. Its about judicial independence. Its about zealous advocacy." - Honorable Patrick Higginbotham, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

"Mark has taken some of the most important issues facing the legal profession and brought them home in this incredible story. This case is truly the beginning of federal habeas corpus as we know it today. - Michael Tigar, famed professor of constitutional law and criminal defense lawyer

"It is the best CLE ethics program I have ever attended."AT&T General Counsel Wayne Watts

"It is the only CLE ethics program I've handled where my lawyers were so moved that some of them actually cried. I strongly recommend Mark's presentation."New Hampshire Bar Association CLE Director Joanne Hinnendael

"Mark's program is the only CLE ethics presentation that has ever been turned into a major motion picture. Lawyers and judges love his CLE."South Carolina Bar Association CLE Director Terry Burnett

The Contempt CLE has been approved for Ethics credit in nearly every state. Click here to see an outline and background information needed for CLE Ethics approval.

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