The hit podcast Serial has turned its attention to Cleveland's Justice Center for its third season. The first two episodes, about the case of a young woman charged with hitting a police officer in a bar fight and a judge who belittles and chastizes the defendants who come before him, have already cast a harsh light on the proceedings there. A local attorney, Rebecca Maurer, is providing a counternarrative and context for the podcast through her blog, SerialLand.
Why'd you decide to respond to Serial's stories in a blog?
As the trailer dropped i realized I was going to have too much to say about this to be willing to just talk amongst my friends. I knew there were stories that I wanted to be sure that were told and context given both for people living in Cleveland and outside of Cleveland who don't know much about our town.
You're a lawyer. You practice civil law. You're a former Legal Aid attorney.
I don't intend to be reproducing their extensive research into Cleveland's criminal justice system but rather providing some context especially around economic justice and some of the history with Cleveland politics and the Cleveland police force, to provide some additional materials for those who are listening.
Your response to Episode Two provided a great backstory. The episode is about Judge Daniel Gaul, a judge in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. You hear him telling a defendant that he'll be considered in violation of his parole if he has another baby out of wedlock, which is a violation of the Constitution.
Unbelieveably, it crossed a line. We were never told that this judge has ever actually punished somebody for having a child out of wedlock. But I can't imagine being a defendant who doesn't necessarily know this truth about the way our Constitution is set up who is intimidated by the idea of having children and getting into trtouble with the law again. I was concerned it was a really harm that wasn't going to be able to be stopped by the justice system.
You write in your blog that the U.S. Supreme Court case that determined marriage and family decisions were protected under the Fourteenth Amendment was Moore v. City of East Cleveland.
In 1973, Inez Moore was living in the city of East Cleveland with a grandson and another child who was by blood a cousin of her grandson but not a direct descendant. The city of East Cleveland under its restrictive housing rule fined Ms. Moore $25 for living in this household. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland took the case all the way to the Supreme Court where Justice (Lewis F.) Powell issued a forceful ruling that it does not matter, the type of family structure you choose to have and your rights to do so are protected under the Constitution.
Besides providing backstory and context for each episode, you also conclude your blog posts with something positive going on in Cleveland.
I actually make a point in the blog that I'm not trying to white wash the very difficult and real stories being told by Sarah Koenig. What I want is for Clevealnd to be the main character. It's the main character in this story. To be a main character, you have to have depth and contradiction. To me that means you have to know the good stories along with the bad. I also hope that for people who aren't from Cleveland for whom this is a story about the criminal justice system as a whole, they won't end up vilifying Cleveland and saying 'Oh, the problems in Serial are because Cleveland is particularly poorly run.' I hope that by telling positive stories and sharing some of the counternarratives, it will make some of the systemic peoblems Sarah Koenig is talking about more real for everybody.