What happens when one left-leaning public defender represents right-wing January 6th rioters?

Heather Shaner has represented alleged criminals who can’t afford a lawyer in Washington, DC for more than 40 years. Committed to rehabilitating clients through education, the blue-haired five-foot-tall public defender has earned a beloved status among the thousands she’s helped. But her goodwill ran out as she watched Trump supporters terrorize her city and storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. When the Federal Defenders Office called days later, asking her to represent some of the insurrectionists, she felt no compassion for them. Heather turned down the felons accused of sedition, but after some reflection, she ultimately took on a caseload of nonviolent offenders. She was curious how the average American could become radicalized and get swept up in a lie.

Two of Heather’s clients, Tennessean Jack Griffith and Pennsylvanian Annie Howell, were charged with disorderly and disruptive conduct, as well as picketing inside the Capitol building. They say they didn’t plan to try to overthrow the government, they just liked being part of something important. Former President Trump’s MAGA campaign gave them that. As Heather learns about her clients, she realizes their upbringings left them susceptible to manipulation — the perfect foot soldiers in a cynical culture war.

Heather decides they need to know about America’s history and assigns them to read John Lewis’s autobiography and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” This is as much an entry point for conversation as a test of their commitment to rehabilitation. As Annie and Jack begin to trust their left-leaning lawyer, Heather faces death threats and criticism. She is condemned by liberals for extending sympathy to people who “don’t deserve it,” and accused by conservatives of subjecting her clients to “Soviet-style-re-education.” 

Though the Capitol attack has been covered exhaustively, there is scant reporting on the average Americans who joined the fray. Unlike other documentaries on the subject, ‘A Capitol Case’ offers rare insight into private legal processes, closed-door congressional meetings, and attorney-client conversations. More importantly, though, it is an intimate portrait of individuals grappling with beliefs they thought were hard-wired but are now being tested by unlikely friendships and lessons in history.

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Currently in production.

"Once you can see somebody as a human being, you can listen to them and once you listen to them, you can feel their pain, the remorse, what they want for the future." Heather Shaner   A Capitol Case



Directed and Written by:
Andrea Kalin

Produced by:
Andrea Kalin, p.g.a.
Ethan Oser

Kate Woodsome

Director of Photography:
Ethan Oser