Morton's Attorney Highlights Local Atticus Finch Day

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BRYAN - An effort by local attorneys to reaffirm their commitment to justice and service reached its sixth year Friday with a visit from a now-famed lawyer.

The Atticus Finch Day event at the Brazos County Administration Building in Bryan was keynoted by John Raley, who represented Michael Morton in his efforts to get a release from prison.

Morton had been convicted of murdering his wife Christine, but after serving 25 years in prison, he was exonerated. Prosecutors had withheld evidence, and DNA testing showed another person committed the crime.

Atticus Finch Day was started by local attorneys Shane Phelps and Philip Banks, who used a courtroom argument to spur efforts to promote their obligations to fight for justice but to do so ethically.

Finch was the lead character in Harper Lee's book, "To Kill a Mockingbird." The lawyer defended Tom Robinson, an African American wrongfully accused of raping a white woman in Alabama in the 1930s.

"I encourage everyone to re-read it, and not just lawyers," Raley said. "Any profession. He lives with a quiet nobility, with integrity, with moral courage. He seeks the truth and he honors it. He loves his children and he tries to raise them well as a single parent. Atticus speaks to all of us on many levels, and I think it's one of the best books I've ever read. I've read it three times, and read it again recently. I encourage everyone to do so."

Seersucker suits were worn by most of the lawyers who attended, just as the Finch character wore.

The Michael Morton Act became law in the State of Texas on the first day of this year, which makes for a more open system of sharing information in the criminal justice process.

"Michael's case is changing the country in ways that we couldn't have predicted," Raley said. "Prosecutors know now they must turn over their investigation, and the Michael Morton Act requires that. That's taking off all around the country now. People are citing this case and how horrible it was that this innocent man and so many other innocent men and women were in prison for 20, 25, 30 years, and that the evidence of his innocence was concealed at the time of his trial."