In 1940, Thurgood Marshall is an NAACP lawyer travelling the country defending people of color who are wrongly accused of crimes because of racial prejudice. Upon his return to his New York office, he is sent to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to defend Joseph Spell, a chauffeur accused of rape by his white employer, Eleanor Strubing, in a case that has gripped the newspapers. In Bridgeport, insurance lawyer Sam Friedman is assigned by his brother to get Marshall admitted to the local bar, against his will. At the hearing, Judge Foster, a friend of the father of prosecutor Lorin Willis, agrees to admit Marshall, but forbids Marshall from speaking during the trial, forcing Friedman to be Spell’s lead counsel. Marshall must guide Friedman through notes, such as when he advises Friedman to allow a woman of Southern white descent into the jury because of her assertive and questioning personality.
Spell swears to Marshall that he never had any sexual contact with Strubing, and leads the lawyers to a patrolman who stopped Spell that night while he was driving Strubing’s car. Marshall and Friedman investigate Strubing’s story that Spell tied her up in the back seat of her car after raping her, and then drove to a bridge to throw her over. They wonder why Spell appeared to throw her over the calm side instead of the side with rapids. Spell is initially interested in a plea bargain offered by Willis, but Marshall talks him out of it. Later on at trial, though, a doctor testifies to finding pieces of skin underneath Strubing’s fingernails, as well as bruises. Strubing herself testifies that she was tied in the back seat when the patrolman pulled Spell over. With this information, Marshall and Friedman confront Spell, who admits that he was lying about not having sexual contact with Strubing….
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