Brooklyn Legal Aid Society makes reality TV

September 21, 2012 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. and The Legal Aid Society
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Reality TV, the genre of unscripted dramas documenting real events involving real people, has come to Brooklyn’s legal community.  

The clients and staff of The Legal Aid Society’s Brooklyn Criminal Defense Office are the stars of the new TV pilot “Criminal Defense-Brooklyn.”

The first half of the pilot was broadcast on the National Geographic channel Tuesday, Sept. 11. Close to 400,000 viewers watched the first pilot, according the Patricia Bath, director of communications for The Legal Aid Society.  The second half of the pilot will air on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 8:30 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.

The show was developed while co-producers Dan Holton-Roth and Jayson Haedrich were students at Brooklyn Law School. “Criminal Defense” portrays The Legal Aid staff providing direct legal representation to their Brooklyn clients in court and in the community.

Haedrich told the American Bar Association Journal that “the stories [presented in the show] are very much kind of slivers of a complicated story of what it is to be a public defender.”

Daniel Houts, co-founder of Hybrid Films and executive producer of “Criminal Defense,” told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of the many challenges and moving parts that are required to make the show a success.

“Having a professional reputation of producing documentary series that go behind the scenes of different work places, presenting the audience with an accurate portrayal of public defenders and the work that they do was especially challenging,” says Houts.

A particular problem was “ensuring that what we film did not interfere with the work of the attorneys defending their clients while still doing the show in the right way,” he said.

Spending time following the Legal Aid Society staff  helped Houts and his team to find a  “cornucopia of really compelling stories. The humdrum everyday grind of the lawyers’ work is a really important deal in the lives of their clients.”

The Legal Aid Society agreed to participate in “Criminal Defense-Brooklyn” because, after many years of watching the criminal justice system portrayed through the lens of the prosecution, they thought that they should do their part to help their clients give voice to their side of the story.

This series takes the viewer inside the world of The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice and presents a real picture of what the society’s clients experience in the criminal justice system and the excellent and dedicated Legal Aid staff members who provide legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers.

Houts promises that the show allows the audience to see how the “criminal justice system works in a granular way, beyond the rhetoric of crime dramas such as ‘Law and Order.’”

Partially a result of the show, The Legal Aid Society is being asked to appear on law school panels to describe the work presented in the pilots. The hope is to get more law school students interested in working as a public defender.

All clients who participated in “Criminal Defense-Brooklyn” voluntarily signed waivers, and only completed cases were used in the show. The Legal Aid Society maintains and exercises the right to prevent the filming of conversations in order to preserve the attorney-client privilege.

“Criminal Defense-Brooklyn” is currently only slotted as a two episode pilot. But the producers and The Legal Aid Society hopes that the show will eventually be picked up as a full series.

The second half of the pilot “Criminal Defense-Brooklyn” will air on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 8:30 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.

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