JUST IN: Ian McKellen, Hal Holbrook join video to support Esquith
Mike Szymanski | July 29, 2015
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In response to the “teacher jailing” of a beloved LA Unified teacher, Rafe Esquith, acclaimed actors Ian McKellen and Hal Holbrook joined past and present students in a You Tube video to offer their support for Esquith and to show how money spent from his after-school program, Hobart Shakespeareans, benefitted his students.
“It is our response to their request for 15 years of financial records of the Hobart Shakespeareans,” said attorney Ben Meiselas, who is representing Esquith with Mark Geragos in a dispute with the district. The response was accompanied by a July 28 letter and signed by Geragos, questioning why an outside law firm hired by the district is delving into the school program that was paid for by donations and often by the teacher himself.
Geragos also questioned who hired the firm, Sedgwick, and under what authority is it investigating the financial history of Hobart Shakespeareans.
In a letter to Sedwick lawyers, Geragos wrote:
“Your letter states that the scope of the investigation has changed, yet again, and is now focused on ‘Mr. Esquith’s compliance with government ethics laws in his actions with the Shakespeareans.’ Your July 20, 2015 letter to the Shakespeareans and your statements concerning Mr. Esquith constitute defamation of character per se. Please notify your legal malpractice carrier that we now intend to include the Sedgwick law firm as a defendant in our action against LAUSD for defamation of character and for aiding and abetting the tortious conduct and due process violations by LAUSD.”
The video begins with Oscar-nominated McKellen saying, “A confession, Rafe Esquith is one my heroes.” He then speaks directly to LAUSD and explains what money collected by the after-school program supported.
“They learned Shakespeare and read all sorts of literature under Rafe’s guidance,” said McKellen, who has volunteered his time for the program. “Rafe was unjustly removed from the classroom where he does this miraculous work.”
The nearly five-minute video shows students with violins and guitars that the fund helped them buy. Students talked about going to Broadway shows in New York, the Lincoln Memorial and the John Steinbeck Museum. Former graduates talked about graduating first in their class from Brown University, attending University of Texas graduate school and attending Northwestern. Students said they learned dance, web design, acting, music and much more through the program.
McKellen holds up a “Lord of the Rings” book — he earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination in the movie adaption — and said, “And they bought books like this. That’s another way they’ve been spending their money.”
Holbrook, best known for his Tony winning and Emmy-nominated portrayals of Mark Twain, held up “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the book that initially got the teacher in trouble. Holbrook asked, “Have you read it?”
Then, he quoted an actual quote from Twain and said, “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”