Jason Flom, The Music Executive With An Ear For Injustice Though he's guided the careers of pop artists including Lorde, Katy Perry and Skid Row, the Lava Records founder is better known lately for his side gig — bringing aid to the wrongfully convicted.
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Jason Flom, The Music Executive With An Ear For Injustice

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Jason Flom, The Music Executive With An Ear For Injustice

Jason Flom, The Music Executive With An Ear For Injustice

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TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Before Lorde was a global pop star, she was just a kid from New Zealand, posting her music on SoundCloud, until one of her songs found its way to a guy named Jason Flom, a music executive who took her from small-town audiences to selling out stadiums.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROYALS")

LORDE: (Singing) And we'll never be royals - royals.

MOSLEY: Flom has a knack for this, helping acts like Skid Row, Katy Perry and Tori Amos find fame. But these days, he's been getting more attention for his side gig - helping wrongfully convicted people get out of prison. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: In 2017, Lamonte McIntyre was on his 23rd year in prison for a double murder he did not commit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAMONTE MCINTYRE: It was just a Friday. I get a phone call saying the police is over at my grandmother's house looking for me.

LIMBONG: This is from the podcast "Wrongful Conviction" with Jason Flom. The show's readying its 11th season. In it, Flom talks to people who've been wrongfully convicted, their families, their lawyers. Usually it's after the incarcerated person gets out. But on this episode, McIntyre tells Flom through a crummy phone line about the monotony of life inside.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCINTYRE: That's where all that - the worst stuff is - knowing that for the last 23 years, 200-some months, 1,100 weeks and 8,000 days, it's the same thing. It never changes.

LIMBONG: In the podcast episode, Flom outlines the prosecutorial misconduct, the lack of evidence and the dubious romantic relationships. Then, in what counts as a happy ending in stories like this, McIntyre was released in October 2017 after a judge declared his case a, quote, "manifest injustice."

CHERYL PILATE: The nice thing about Jason is he can really give voice to the pain and the horror that's involved in some of these cases.

LIMBONG: Cheryl Pilate represented Lamonte McIntyre. She says that as a lawyer, she's limited in what she can say in cases like McIntyre's to generate public support.

PILATE: But Jason has an - almost an unerring instinct for ferreting out the most dramatic and unjust aspects of a case. Truly outrageous things can happen, and he zeroes right in on them.

JASON FLOM: I think my skills as a marketing guy helped me out in this world.

LIMBONG: Jason Flom started in the music industry, putting up posters in record stores for Atlantic Records. He eventually became the guy who finds young talent and gets them in the ears of big, important people. And when he hears something in an artist, whether it's Twisted Sister or the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, he's excitable, maybe even a little annoying in his enthusiasm.

FLOM: I love this music. I want to share my excitement. I know no one else loves it as much as I do, but I'm going to do everything I have to do to get people to notice them.

LIMBONG: He started applying this energy to people in prison after he read a story in the New York Post about Steven Lennon, sentenced to 15 years for cocaine possession. It was 1993, and Flom was still coming up in the music world.

FLOM: I didn't know anything about the drug laws. But I had had substance abuse problems when I was a kid. And I was very conscious of the fact that because I came from the neighborhood I came from, the zip code I came from, the family I came from and because I was employed, I was sent to rehab.

LIMBONG: Flom called Lennon's mother and then called in a favor from the lawyer who worked with both Skid Row and Stone Temple Pilots.

FLOM: Both of whom I had discovered. And so since I was working with them and they were getting arrested it seems like every week, I had him on speed dial, right?

LIMBONG: Six months later, Flom, sporting a mullet and purple Doc Martens, was in the courtroom with the family and the lawyer.

FLOM: And the judge says some blah, blah, blah, blah - whatever the hell he says. And he goes, and under the power vested in me, the motion is granted. And he bangs the gavel down.

LIMBONG: They won. And to this day, Flom carries that feeling around.

FLOM: And I was like, oh, my God, that's the greatest thing I've ever heard. Like, this - oh, I just knocked something down.

LIMBONG: From there, Flom got involved with a number of criminal justice advocacy groups, which led him to the Innocence Project, the long-standing organization that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people. Co-founder Barry Scheck says, from the start, Flom has been interested in helping people after they're exonerated with the real-life stuff the formerly incarcerated need when they get out - a job, a car, a place to stay.

BARRY SCHECK: That's where Jason has really been a lifesaver for so many people. You know, if you need a root canal, Jason will pay for it, you know?

LIMBONG: Scheck says he sees Flom's podcast as an extension of this work, another marketing tool for getting people's stories out there. The podcast recently launched spinoffs, looking at how bad science and false confessions play into wrongful convictions. Flom says one of his goals is to create a more thoughtful and educated pool of jurors.

FLOM: Then, by definition, we will be helping to prevent future wrongful convictions just by virtue of people going in there educated and armed with information.

LIMBONG: Flom's still got his day job as CEO of Lava Records, scouting and signing new talent. With policing and racism in the headlines right now, I asked him if people from his music world were doing enough to help people from his criminal justice world. And he gave a vaguely diplomatic answer about how everybody has a thing to focus on and support. But then, ever the marketer...

FLOM: Also, I would say almost everyone at some point has broken some sort of a law.

LIMBONG: Before moving on to two other wrongful conviction cases he wanted to spotlight.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

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