Will Harrell marries Simone Levine (and vice versa)

Will Harrell and Simone Levine

By Alan Bean

If you have read Taking out the Trash (and shame on you if you haven’t) you are already familiar with Will Harrell–he figures prominently in the story.  

The civil rights activist had just arrived in Austin to assume his new duties as ED of the Texas affiliate of the ACLU when he saw Nate Blakeslee’s article The Color of Change in the Austin Chronicle.  It was August of 2000 and the trial of Kareem Abdul Jabar White was just days away.  When Will and Jeff Frazier walked into the Swisher County courtroom all eyes were on them.  Prior to this moment, undercover agent Tom Coleman (and the occasional no-account defendant) were the only pony tail-sporting males to have ever set foot in this hallowed hall.  D.A. Terry McEachern knew he was in trouble.

Will and his ACLU associates used the Tulia story, and the equally compelling Hearne case (think American Violet), to dramatize the egregious failings of the Texas criminal justice system.  Working in the media and the state legislature, they made significant changes in Texas law while playing a vital role in the unwieldy coalition assembled to fight the injustice in Tulia. 

Will Harrell can work with anyone (even preachers and Republicans) if it gets the ball over the goal line.

A few years ago, I spent a couple of evenings bar hopping with Will in wicked New York.  He had just seen his old flame, Simone Levine, at a gala for the Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, and he couldn’t stop talking about her.  “If I ever get married,” he told me, “she’ll be the one.”

And now she is. 

The story of their romance is related below.  I’m not sure how you go about getting your wedding announcement in the New York Times, but Will and Simone managed it.  Congratulations to you both.  When freedom fighters find each other in the midst of the fight, it’s a wonderful thing. 

Simone Levine, William Harrell

Published: November 13, 2011
Simone Alana Levine and William Clark Harrell were married Saturday evening in New Orleans. Rabbi Ellen R. Lippmann officiated at the Degas House, a bed-and-breakfast inn in New Orleans. Judge Margaret Alfonso, the Youth Court judge in Harrison County, Miss., and with whom Mr. Harrell has worked, took part.

The bride, 36, is the deputy independent monitor of the New Orleans Police Department in the Inspector General’s office. She attends police department disciplinary hearings and is involved with reforming the department’s internal affairs division. Until April, she was a public integrity prosecutor with the New York State Attorney General’s Office in Manhattan. She graduated from McGill University in Montreal and received a law degree from the University of Connecticut.

She is a daughter of Noelle T. Levine and Paul M. Levine of Brooklyn.

The bridegroom, 46, an independent consultant on juvenile justice reform with his own firm, is the lead Federal Court monitor of the juvenile justice system in Ohio; he works in Houston and in New Orleans. He graduated from the University of Texas and received juris doctor and master of law degrees from American University.

He is the son of Catherine L. Harrell and Guy B. Harrell of Houston.

Ms. Levine and Mr. Harrell met at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York in 1999 after protests over the police shooting of Amadou Diallo. They were among a roomful of lawyers and community activists at a meeting organized by civil rights lawyers to devise legal strategies to avert another such tragedy.

As she walked into the meeting, Mr. Harrell, then the executive director of the National Police Accountability Project, recalled being “stunned by her beauty.” Next, he was swept away by her words. “She spoke so eloquently and with such confidence and crystal-clear consciousness, I knew we’d be comrades and friends,” he said. “And I hoped for more, for sure.”

Although she noticed that Mr. Harrell was “extremely handsome,” Ms. Levine, then a law intern working with a civil rights lawyer, was focused on her career and the work at hand. “Then the two of us started speaking at the meeting,” she said, where they found they agreed on the direction of the lawsuit.

In the following weeks, they worked together closely and started dating. ”I was terribly in love with him, but I had this notion that people don’t take people seriously unless they’re known for their own right,” she said. “Will had a very strong reputation as a civil right crusader, and I didn’t want to ride on his reputation.”

When the summer ended, Ms. Levine returned to law school and Mr. Harrell moved to Austin, Tex. They remained close friends, calling each other often.

“His work is so inspiring to me, but our friendship is also super-inspiring to me,” she said. “This is a man I’ve known for 13 years.”

In November 2010, Mr. Harrell came to New York for a job interview, and for the first time in more than a decade, he said, he called her with no motive other than to get her opinions on current New York State politics.

She joined him at an East Village bar and then in a small, darkly lighted Spanish restaurant. “We got a bottle of wine and not enough food,” Ms. Levine said.

The talk turned to relationships, and she said she wasn’t attracted to anyone she had been seeing. “We had similar frustrations about not being able to find someone we connected to on a romantic, spiritual, intellectual and political level,” he said. Then he looked at her and thought: “Bingo. Here we were.”

And with that, he leaned over and kissed her. “That was exactly what I wanted to have happen,” she said.