Real to Reel: Experiences Of Baylor Law Alumnus And Professor Play Integral Part In New Feature Film

March 17, 2009

Free showing of 'American Violet' at Baylor, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 18, Mayborn Museum, featuring actor Will Patton

At Baylor University, students are encouraged to understand how their life's work is a calling and how all of life is a stewardship of service. The question, "How should I best use my talents?" is taken seriously here with the intention that students will continue to strive to put their talents to use in service to others throughout their lives.

In just the first year after his graduation, a Baylor Law School alumnus found himself facing that question. His choice was to serve others, potentially jeopardizing his own financial needs and reputation in the community - and the result was a landmark case resulting in charges being dropped against 17 people wrongly arrested for drug trafficking.

That case, the alumnus and the Baylor Law School professor who taught and mentored him are central to a new feature film from Samuel Goldwyn Pictures. "American Violet" fictionalizes the story of some Hearne, Texas, residents - all of whom were poor and black - falsely charged in a drug roundup in 2000. The alumnus and professor who played a significant role in their defense was David Moore, now an attorney in Groesbeck, Texas, and Baylor Law School professor Mark Osler.

A screening in Waco will be at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 18, at Baylor's Mayborn Museum, 1300 S. University Parks Dr. The public is invited to this free showing which will feature an appearance by one of the film's leading actors, Will Patton, who portrays the character based on Moore. A reception will be held at 7 p.m. prior to the screening also at the Mayborn.

The film focuses on the character of "Dee Roberts," the fictionalized character of Regina Kelly of Hearne. Like Kelly, Roberts is a 24-year-old single mother of four, working as a waitress in a small Texas town. She finds herself among a group of more than two dozen people wrongly accused of dealing drugs. She is offered a plea bargain, but does not take it, opting instead to take a chance that a jury trial will prove her innocence.

Enter the American Civil Liberties Union. Long critical of drug roundups ensnaring people like Roberts across the country, the ACLU attorneys are looking for a case to challenge the practice. But the attorneys know they are outsiders - from big cities back east and out west - who neither understand nor would be accepted by small-town Texas. They need someone on their team who knows the territory.

They ask a Baylor Law School professor, based on Osler and fictionalized as "Joe Fischer" in the film, for help. Fischer recalls a recent graduate, a student who had worked as an undercover law enforcement officer on drug cases before he entered law school. The former student - "Sam Conroy" in the movie, David Moore in real life - lives in the area and knows many of the police and sheriff's officers who made the bad drug bust.

Conroy's struggle in deciding whether to join the team of attorneys pursuing justice or be seen as a traitor to his former profession make up a key subplot of the film. It was a struggle that was real for David Moore, who earned his Baylor law degree in 2000 after earning a bachelors degree in criminal justice from Sam Houston State University.

"Mark Osler called me about this case and asked me to talk to the ACLU about it," Moore says. "I had just started building my practice and I was concerned about jeopardizing my business. But I had a lot of respect for Mark, so I agreed to meet with the ACLU."

That first meeting didn't go very well. Moore describes it as only a small-town Texas lawyer would: "I knew they would not fit with me or me with them. I told Mark, 'we're just not gonna gee-haw very well on this.'"

The ACLU lawyers, however, saw something they wanted in the newly minted Baylor lawyer. They asked Moore to come to California to review the cases. Still skeptical, he agreed. "They flew me out and I saw how terrible these cases were. I couldn't walk away from them.

"No one deserves to be arrested for something they didn't do," he continues. "The thing that appalled me the most about these cases was the lack of attention paid to them. Some of these people had questionable backgrounds - a few had been in trouble with the law before. But all of them were poor and black, making them all easy targets."

Moore said his decision to join the team felt as if he was going against family. He is a 20-year veteran of law enforcement, working first with the Houston Police Department and then with the Limestone County Sheriff's Office where he rose to the rank of lieutenant. He worked narcotics, sometimes on deep cover assignments, meaning only a few trusted officers knew his true identity. He had worked alongside some of the law enforcement officers he now was going to bring suit against.

"I knew these guys. I had been to their families' weddings and funerals, and I knew my involvement in this case would leave a mark on either me or them - or both," Moore says. "But I have to be able to look myself in the face when I get up each morning, so I had to get involved."

The state's case against the defendants was based on suspect information from a lone informant, who was in jail at the time on drug charges. Once Moore became involved, the prosecution began dropping the charges against the defendants. The civil litigation was settled in 2005, and today, the type of drug roundups used to charge the Hearne defendants are no longer used. There also is a new state law against the use of single informants.

Today, Moore practices in Groesbeck. He says his Baylor Law School education prepared him well. "If you want to be a trial lawyer and you go to any other place, you're wasting your time," he says. "You can walk out of Baylor Law School and walk into any courtroom and try any case."

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