Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

Journalist Wilbert Rideau to Deliver Keynote for W&L Law School MLK Day Activities

Washington and Lee University School of Law will hold a number of activities on Monday, January 20 in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Events include a lecture by author and capital defense consultant Wilbert Rideau and an alumni panel discussion.

Rideau will deliver the keynote address for the School’s MLK Day remembrance. His talk is scheduled for 4:00 pm the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall. All of the School’s MLK Day events are free and open to the public.

In 1961, the state of Louisiana condemned 19-year-old Wilbert Rideau to death for murder. His life was spared by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, but he would spend a decade in solitary death row confinement, and 34 more years serving a sentence of life imprisonment without parole in Louisiana’s notorious Angola State Prison. During those years, Rideau first educated himself as a writer, and in time became the editor of The Angolite, the prisoner-produced news magazine, and first prison journalist to win the right to publish free from censorship.

Over the next quarter century, Rideau won many of the nation’s highest journalism awards, including the prestigious George Polk Award, for his contributions to public understanding of the criminal justice and prison systems. In 1979, he became the first prisoner ever to receive the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for an investigative exposé, “Conversations with the Dead,” that resulted in the release of a number of long-term inmates “lost” in the Louisiana prison system.

In 1984, he was selected to participate in an unprecedented nationally televised dialogue with Chief Justice Warren Burger of the Supreme Court on ABC-TV’s Nightline. In March 1993, Life magazine called him “The Most Rehabilitated Prisoner in America.” That same year, he ventured into broadcast journalism, producing award-winning reports for national radio and television. In 1996, he became the only prisoner ever to receive the Louisiana Bar Association’s highest journalistic honor for a documentary film he co-produced, Final Judgment: The Execution of Antonio James. In 1998, he co-directed a documentary, The Farm: Angola, USA, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Eventually Rideau won a new trial due to racial discrimination in the pre-Civil Rights era Louisiana court system that had condemned him, and in early 2005, he was retried on his original murder charge. The jury, provided with new evidence, acquitted him of murder and found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, which was punishable by a maximum of 21 years. Since he had already served 44 years, he was freed immediately after the verdict, on Martin Luther King Day, 2005.

Immediately prior to Rideau’s talk, beginning at 3:00 pm in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, the School will also host a panel discussion composed of three W&L Law alumni and one alumnus of the college, moderated by W&L Law professor Victoria Shannon The panelists will discuss how their civic, personal, and professional efforts since graduating from law school have contributed to the broader ideals and mission associated with King, such as justice and equality for all.

About the Panelists

Steve Abraham 80, 83L, is President and founder of WILL, the Wilderness Leadership and Learning Program. In 2003, Abraham left the practice of law to bring his vision for WILL to District youth from underserved neighborhoods. WILL helps D.C. teens grow and learn in order to help them become leaders and achieve their goals. Among his many community involvements, Abraham currently serves on the Boards of the Multi-Cultural Intern Program, The Aaron Straus & Lillie Straus Foundation, and The Camp Airy and Camp Louise Foundation. He previously served on the Boards of the Washington and Lee University Alumni Association and the Decade Society. In 2008, Abraham was presented with the Amigo of the Year Award by Principal Maria Tukeva at the Bell Multicultural High School’s 23rd Annual Scholarship Benefit Gala. In May 2011, Abraham was honored by his selection as a member of the Leadership Greater Washington Class of 2012. Abraham received his bachelor’s degree from W&L in 1980 and his law degree from W&L in 1983.

Loranne Ausley 90L is the Vice Chair of the Southern Progress Fund. Ausley is a native of the Florida Panhandle who served as an elected Member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2000-2008. She is the Founding Chair of Whole Child Leon, a community based initiative focused on young children and their families. Ausley is an avid runner and triathlete, and an Ironman finisher (Florida 2007). Ausley is a 1990 graduate of the law school.

Dubose “Duby” Ausley 59 is a former Chairman of Ausley McMullen. Ausley worked closely with Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, who was a pioneer during the Civil Rights Movement and actually marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama. Ausley now practices in corporate law, government, litigation and wills and trusts. He is also Director of TECO Energy, Inc, and Director of Capital City Bank Group of Tallahassee, and former member of Florida Council of 100, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida Board of Directors, Chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics, and Chairman of the Florida Board of Regents. Ausley also previously served as a captain in the U.S. Army. Ausley received his Bachelor’s degree from W&L in 1959 and earned his law degree from the University of Florida in 1962.

Robert (Bobby) Hatten 72L is a pioneer and national leader in the field of asbestos litigation. For the past 17 years, he has been recognized by his peers to be included in “The Best Lawyers in America.” Best Lawyers, the oldest and most respected peer-review publication in the legal profession, has also named Hatten as the “Norfolk Best Lawyers Personal Injury Litigation Lawyer of the Year” for 2012. After graduating from Washington and Lee University Law School in 1972, Hatten served as a law clerk to the Honorable John A. MacKenzie in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In 1973, he joined the law firm of Patten & Wornom and was made partner in 1976. For the past 20 years, Hatten has served as the managing partner of Patten, Wornom, Hatten & Diamonstein, L.C., the largest law firm in the city of Newport News.