The historic Double Height courtroom in the Bexar County Courthouse. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Organizers for this year’s Bexar County Family Justice Center gala abruptly postponed the event scheduled for Tuesday night after determining that the messaging in a play commissioned for the evening did not fit with the organization’s intentions of inspiring hope and aspiration for those suffering from domestic violence.

Lisa Ginn, executive director of the Bexar County Family Justice Center, told the Rivard Report that the organization “went off the tracks” trying to create a unique experience at the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year.

The play, titled The Trial of Lee Johnson, tells the story of a black man executed by hanging in 1913 for the murder of Dr. Augustus Maverick, a prominent San Antonio physician. Johnson’s trial took place in the Double Height courtroom inside the Bexar County Courthouse, where the gala was to be held.

The event was to be “an evening of theater” honoring Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and served as the Family Justice Center’s annual fundraiser. It has been rescheduled for May 15.

In a Facebook post created Monday, the Family Justice Center wrote “we decided that the gala wasn’t the most appropriate place to debut a play based on the famous trial of Lee Johnson.”

“The trial was one which touched on the very sensitive issues related to race and justice,” the post continued. “The [Bexar County Family Justice Center] Foundation felt that it didn’t align with the traditional message of hope and renewal that it has been shared in the past.”

Local attorney Lee Cusenbary, who wrote the play, told the Rivard Report on Tuesday that he did not have a say in the decision and that canceling the performance confused him.

“I also thought there was opportunity there for the Courthouse to serve as a lesson in civil rights, which as an attorney I think I overestimated what people wanted to learn during dinner,” Cusenbary said. “It may be that the weight of my play was too much for this environment, and I respect that.”

In a text to the Rivard Report, Wolff said he understands “the concerns of the Justice foundation and support[s] their decision to delay the event.”

Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood, an ex-officio member of the foundation’s board, sent a statement to the Rivard Report saying the theme of the play was not a good fit for the event.

“The FJC’s mission is to assist a victim in their journey from survivor to thriver,” LaHood stated. “The theme of the play does not reflect this vision and so the decision to postpone was appropriate.”

Cusenbary said organizers asked him to write a new play to be produced for the rescheduled gala, and he agreed.

“I’m going to write a very light-hearted kind of West Texas, funny, small-town trial for them to do,” Cusenbary said.

The Bexar County Family Justice Center opened in August 2005 as a partnership between the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, the Bexar County Family Justice Center Foundation, and 40 other community partners. Its mission is to “provide crisis support, legal assistance, counseling, and education empowerment for our [domestic violence] survivors.”

Cusenbary said it’s possible that a showing of The Trial of Lee Johnson may be organized in the coming weeks for Black History Month.

This article was originally published on Feb. 6.

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Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.