David Menschel

(L-R) Co-producers Jonathan Oppenheim, Nasser Arrabyee, executive producer David Menschel, director Laura Poitras, cinematographer Kirsten Johnson, Abdul Ghani, and Katy Scoggin pose for a portrait during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival held at the WireImage Portrait Studio at The Lift on January 25, 2010 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)





Vital Funds Project

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David Menschel is a left-of-center defense lawyer and president of the Vital Projects Fund, which advocates for liberalizing criminal justice policies including by abolishing the death penalty. Menschel is a graduate of Yale Law School and lives in Portland, Oregon.


David Menschel graduated with a B.A. from Princeton University. 1 After teaching American history to high school students, he attended Yale Law School where he earned a J.D. 2


Innocence Project

David Menschel formerly worked as an attorney at the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies that it claims would help prevent wrongful convictions. 3 The Innocence Project trains its employees to deploy left-wing perspectives like intersectionality in its work 4 and opposes tough-on-crime policies. 5

Menschel was also the legal director of the Innocence Project of Florida. 6

Vital Projects Fund

David Menschel works as a defense attorney and the president of Vital Projects Fund, a grantmaking organization supporting left-of-center advocacy and criminal justice policy. 7 Beyond offering grants to criminal justice-focused organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); ACLU Foundation; ACLU chapters in Colorado, Delaware, and Montana; as and the left-of-center legal policy organization Brennan Center for Justice, 8 the Vital Projects Fund has also given money to cultural and educational organizations like Syracuse University, Yale and Harvard Law Schools, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 9

Political Advocacy

Opposition to the Death Penalty

David Menschel is a leading advocate for ending the death penalty nationwide. He has supported efforts to end the use of the death penalty based on the 8th Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishments clause. In 2015, Menschel advocated that the anti-death penalty movement should “be thinking about how it might bring a case to the Supreme Court.” 10

Under Menschel’s direction, Vital Projects Fund gave a $50,000 donation to the University of Mississippi law school’s George C. Cochran Innocence Project in 2020. The project has defended Curtis Flowers, a Mississippi man who was tried six times for the murder of four people in Winona, Mississippi. Appellate courts overturned all jury convictions against Flowers, including on the grounds of racial bias in jury selection; in 2020, the state of Mississippi dropped the charges against him. 11

Upon supporting the George C. Cochran Innocent Project, Menschel said, “We oppose the death penalty and give grants to help end it.” 12

Articles, Films, and Awards

David Menschel is the author of Abolition Without Deliverance: The Law of Connecticut Slavery, 1748-1847, a 2001 Yale Law Review article. 13 He was also the executive producer of left-of-center documentary films on the American penal system, including Solitary, 14 The Oath, 15 and War Don Don. 16

Solitary, directed by Kristi Jacobson, is a documentary about the maximum-security Red Onion state prison in southwestern Virginia. 17

The Oath, directed by Laura Poitras, 18 tells the story of the first man to face the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay during the War on Terror. 19

War Don Don, directed by Rebecca Richman Cohen, tells the story of the controversial trial of an accused war criminal in Sierra Leone. 20

Other documentaries produced by Menschel include citizenfour; Do Not Resist; Untouchable; the Mind of Mark DeFriest; Florence, Arizona;21 and Since I Been Down. 22


  1. “Team.” Since I Been Down. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  2. “Team.” Since I Been Down. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  3. “Team.” Since I Been Down. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  4. “Careers.” Innocence Project. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  5. Chan, Justin. “’Tough-on-Crime’ Policies Are at Odds with the Presumption of Innocence.” Innocence Project, January 26, 2023.
  6. “Team.” Since I Been Down. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  7. “Team.” Since I Been Down. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  8.  Adeniji, Ade. “Low Profile, Long Track Record: The Philanthropy of the Menschel Brothers.” Inside Philanthropy. March 9, 2015. Archived March 29, 2021. Accessed September 19, 2019.
  9. Vital Projects Fund. Big Database. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  10. Geidner, Chris. “The Most Ambitious Effort Yet to Abolish the Death Penalty is Already Happening.” Buzzfeed News. November 8, 2015. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  11. Yesko, Parker. “Charges against Curtis Flowers Are Dropped.” Charges against Curtis Flowers are dropped | It’s Over | APM Reports, May 4, 2022.
  12. Dabney, Bill. “Law School’s Innocence Project Receives Privat Gifts.” Olse Miss University of Mississippi News. March 2, 2020. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  13. Menschel, David. “Abolition Without Deliverance: The Law of Connecticut Slavery, 1784-1848.” Yale Law Review. September 24, 2023. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  14. “David Menschel: Awards.” IMDb. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  15. “The Oath: Awards.” IMDB, Accessed July 3, 2023.
  16. “David Menschel: Awards.” IMDb. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  17. “Solitary.” IMDb. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  18. “Solitary.” IMDb. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  19. “The Oath.” iTVS. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  20. “Solitary.” IMDb. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  21. “Team.” Since I Been Down. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  22. “Team.” Since I Been Down. Accessed July 3, 2023.
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