by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
A documentary of the story of a local judge has traveled from coast to coast and brought back awards.
The story of historical firsts achieved by Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams, who was born and raised on Jacksonville’s Eastside, was the focus of “Conversations on Catfish, Courtrooms, and Change: The Life and Times of Henry Lee Adams, Jr.”
The documentary was co-directed by Jacksonville attorney William “Bill” Sheppard and his son, Lang, of Stunt Dog Productions.
Adams partnered with Sheppard, Lyman Fletcher, Jack Hand and Hugh Carithers, now a circuit judge, in 1972 to form one of the first integrated law firms in the state.
“Judge Adams is a piece of history and should be memorialized,” said Sheppard.
The documentary describes Adams’ experiences growing up in a segregated society and his pursuit of justice through his legal career.
Along with being a part of one of the first integrated law firms in the state, Adams was the first African-American judge in Northeast Florida when he was appointed in 1979 to the Fourth Judicial Circuit.
He was the first African-American U.S. district judge in the Middle District of Florida, appointed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, and the first African-American senior U.S. District judge in the state.
“It was interesting to reflect on some of the events of the past,” said Adams.
“It was interesting to look at the progression of race relations during that time. We’ve come a long way and done some great things, but we still have a long way to go.”
The movie has not been presented for viewing by the general public, but has been seen by judges at a handful of movie festivals and film competitions.
The Los Angeles Movie Awards, an online awards competition, recently honored the documentary with awards for best narration by Adams and honorable mention for documentary short. While both Adams and Sheppard were pleased with the honor, they both said they didn’t work on the project for awards.
“It’s nice to get awards, but we didn’t do it for awards. We did it to preserve the history and, hopefully, inspire a younger generation of African-Americans to do something special with their lives,” said Sheppard.
While the only public showing of the movie occurred at Adams’ recent Matthew W. Gilbert High School reunion, plans are being developed for a public release. The documentary is under review by festival committees.
“It was well-received at the reunion,” said Adams.
Another film project that Sheppard contributed to, as an actor, is tentatively scheduled for release in the fall, “Fins-The Movie,” directed by the late Circuit Judge Jeff Morrow.
Many of the scenes were shot in Jacksonville and included the talents of the local legal community including Sheppard, Tara Sa’id, Cary Braswell, Susannah Collins, Patty Dodson, Shelley Eckels, Teressa Arnold-Simmons, Whitney Lonker, David Sacks and Roger Dodd.
According to www.finsthemovie.com, the storyline is set in New York City and Jacksonville, “where a tragic accident and a shark-finning operation wind up in a Florida trial court and an appellate court.”
The website will post updates on the release of the film.