L. Christopher Stewart (left) and Donald Samuel. (Photos: John Disney/ALM) Chris Stewart (left) and Don Samuel. (Photos: John Disney/ALM)

A high-profile criminal defense attorney and a lawyer who has represented bereaved families after police shootings around the country are to be honored by the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The Southern Center will present its “Luminary Award” to Donald Samuel of Garland, Samuel & Loeb at “Justice Taking Root,” the legal aid nonprofit’s annual Atlanta benefit reception. Samuel was chosen “for his incomparable ability to provide elite caliber defense to people charged with crimes and his commitment to improving the quality of criminal defense in Georgia,” the group said Friday.

Samuel was part of the defense team in the Tex McIver murder trial last year. He also won the acquittal in the murder case that formed the basis for the novel and movie, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” based in Savannah.

SCHR will also present an inaugural “Vanguard Award” to L. Christopher Stewart of Stewart Trial Attorneys. The group said Stewart is being recognized “for standing at the forefront of the movement to hold police accountable for atrocities inflicted upon communities they are pledged to serve.” Stewart has negotiated settlements for families of unarmed African-American men shot by police officers around the country.

Justice Taking Root provides unrestricted support for the Southern Center’s work as well as “an opportunity to thank friends and allies,” the group said. The event is planned for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on May 7 at the Foundry at Puritan Mill. More information and a response form are available on the SCHR website.

The Southern Center for Human Rights was founded in 1976 by ministers and activists concerned about criminal justice issues in response to the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of the death penalty that year and to the conditions in Southern prisons and jails, according to the history on the group’s website. Its creation followed the historic 1972 case of Gates v. Collier, brought in federal court in the Northern District of Mississippi, ending constitutional violations at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm).

Originally named the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, the organization’s attorneys and investigators worked with civil rights organizations, families and faith-based organizations to protect the civil and human rights of people of color, poor people and other disadvantaged people facing the death penalty or otherwise incarcerated in the South.

In addition to representing people facing the death penalty, SCHR provides class action and individual representation in challenging what it considers unconstitutional and unconscionable practices within the criminal justice system.