Blake Strode | St. Louis Public Radio

Blake Strode

Keilee Fant is a plaintiff in two ArchCity Defenders lawsuits against Ferguson and Jennings for operating 'debtors prisons.'
Chuck Ramsey | ArchCity Defenders

Five years ago this month, the nonprofit legal advocacy group ArchCity Defenders and its allies opened a new line of attack on what they viewed as the injustice of the municipal court system in St. Louis County.

They filed the first of what would become seven federal lawsuits accusing St. Louis area municipalities of running modern-day debtors prisons. The lawsuits sought major changes to the way the cities used their municipal court systems and financial compensation for those harmed. 

One city — Jennings — decided to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. But it was the outlier.

November 7, 2019 Michael-John Voss and Blake Strode
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Ten years ago, a trio of recent law school graduates formed a nonprofit law firm. They called it ArchCity Defenders. And they had a novel idea: wraparound services, not just legal representation, for the people who needed it most.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Michael-John Voss explained that he and his co-founders, Thomas Harvey and John McAnnar, were inspired by the Jesuit tradition at St. Louis University School of Law. After taking classes in public interest law, they found themselves working on projects representing those too poor to afford lawyers.

“We saw the fact that the existing entities that were supposed to serve the indigent population were overburdened and overworked,” he said. “And there was no communication between the civil and criminal organizations that are supposed to serve this population. We thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this.’” 

ArchCity Defenders' Blake Strode and Jacki Langum
St. Louis Public Radio's Lara Hamdan and ArchCity Defenders

Blake Strode, executive director of ArchCity Defenders, and Jacki Langum, the organization’s advocacy director, talk about the group’s 10th anniversary on the latest edition of Politically Speaking.

ArchCity is celebrating this week with a live taping of its podcast, a celebration of actor Danny Glover as a Racial Justice Champion, and a day-long racial justice roundtable.

Police officers form a line near Jefferson Avenue and Market Street. Dozens of people were arrested after blocking Interstate 64 on Oct. 3, 2017.
Rachel Lippmann I St. Louis Public Radio

Lawyers and people who allege to have been victims of police misconduct during a series of protests in 2017 said they anticipate a federal grand jury indictment filed Thursday against four St. Louis police officers to lead to additional investigations.

The charges against three of the four officers include using excessive force during an arrest of an undercover officer. The officer was arrested during a night of protests related to the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley in September 2017. Allegations against all four officers also include obstructing justice.

The Bail Project plans to bail out tens of thousands of people in dozens of cities. Since January, its St. Louis team has bailed out 756 people.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The first time Michael Milton helped buy somebody’s freedom, he didn’t expect it would be so simple.

He filed some paperwork, handed over cash and waited. Several hours later, the 19-year-old for whom Milton posted bail walked out of the St. Louis City Justice Center. The teenager had spent three months behind bars because he didn’t have $750 to make bail.

Left, Bill Freivogel, Blake Strode and Dan Epps participated in the Legal Roundtable discussion on Tuesday's St. Louis on the Air.
Kelly Moffitt and Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

Last week, news broke that two St. Louisans were denied housing in a senior community because of their sexual orientation. Now the case is headed to the U.S. District Court.

Workhouse protest, July 2017
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Activists will rally Wednesday outside the City Justice Center of St. Louis to launch an effort to shut down the city's Medium Security Institution, commonly known as the Workhouse.

The Close the Workhouse campaign comes as progressive politicians across the country look for ways to address criminal justice reform and large cities, such as Philadelphia and New York, take steps to reform their court systems. Close the Workhouse organizers hope their work can lead to change in St. Louis.

ArchCity Defenders new executive director Blake Strode talked about the organization's mission to continue helping underserved citizens.
File photo | Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

The non-profit civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders is a legal advocacy group established less than a decade ago in St. Louis. After the organization’s co-founder Thomas Harvey announced his resignation as executive director, attorney Blake Strode became his successor.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with Strode, the St. Louis native, Harvard Law School graduate and former Skadden fellow. He returned to St. Louis to use his law degree to work on social and racial justice issues.