'American Violet'

May 28, 2009
A Baylor Law School alumnus and the professor who taught and mentored him, and a landmark case resulting in charges being dropped against 17 people wrongly arrested for drug trafficking, are central to a new feature film from Samuel Goldwyn Pictures.

American Violet fictionalizes the story of some Hearne, Texas, residents falsely charged in a drug roundup in 2000. The alumnus and professor who played a significant role in their defense is David Moore, JD '01, now an attorney in Groesbeck, Texas, and Baylor Law School professor Mark Osler.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asks 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 Moore, who earned his Baylor law degree after earning a bachelor's 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 said. "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."

The ACLU lawyers 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 said. "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."

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 said. "You can walk out of Baylor Law School and walk into any courtroom and try any case."

Violet won a Heartland Truly Moving Pictures award and opened April 17 in selected theatres. The film stars critically hailed newcomer Nicole Beharie, Academy Award nominees Michael O'Keefe and Alfre Woodard, Emmy Award winner Charles S. Dutton, Tim Blake Nelson, Will Patton and Xzibit.
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