Press Release

Film Featuring Ballard Spahr Clemency Client Wins at Sundance Festival

January 29, 2018

The Sentence—a film featuring a Ballard Spahr pro bono clemency client—won the Audience Award for a U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend.

Marjorie J. Peerce, a white-collar defense partner in Ballard Spahr's New York office, led a team that filed a clemency petition for pro bono client Cindy Shank, a woman sentenced to 15 years in prison for a first-time, nonviolent, drug-related offense. In addition to earning the Sundance award, The Sentence has landed a deal with HBO for U.S. television and streaming rights, Variety reported.

The story of Ms. Shank's incarceration, the effects it had on her three young daughters, and her family's efforts to lobby for sentencing reform were documented by Ms. Shank's brother, filmmaker Rudy Valdez. The project began as a way to record his niece's childhoods for his sister while she was in prison, but grew into a full-fledged documentary. 

The film has received positive reviews from the media. The Washington Post predicted that the film: "is poised to do for unjust sentencing what "An Inconvenient Truth" did for climate change. If Al Gore was the hero Americans at Sundance and beyond needed in 2005 … Shank and her daughters offer the criminal justice equivalent, giving a human access point to what many experts describe as a sociological disaster." 

Ms. Peerce, who also appears in the film, was a member of the working group that developed Clemency Project 2014, the Obama-era reform initiative that addressed nonviolent inmates serving disproportionately harsh prison terms after being sentenced under the mandatory sentencing laws of the 1990s and 2000s. She served on the Project's Steering Committee and oversaw Ballard Spahr's pro bono involvement. 

More than 100 Ballard Spahr attorneys represented clients pro bono through Clemency Project 2014. The firm filed petitions for 81 clients with the Office of the Pardon Attorney. President Barack Obama granted 29 petitions filed by Ballard Spahr, more than any other Am Law 100 firm. Clemency Project 2014 resulted in cumulative sentence reductions of more than 13,000 years, at a taxpayer savings of more than $436 million.

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