Dramatic attorneys

July 2, 2009
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Today's post was written by Managing Editor Elizabeth Brockett. 

In her opening remarks, the deputy prosecutor told the jury that real trials are nothing like what people see on TV or in the movie theaters.

“Oh yes it was! It was exactly like it!” laughed my friend as he told me about his experience serving on a jury.

He said that prosecutor especially was oh-so dramatic in her presentation and arguments. I can’t even remember what he said the case was about because I was so struck by his impression that has stayed with me for several years. As a former police and court reporter, I’ve covered murder and other criminal trials and a few civil trials. Rarely are they as dramatic as they seem on the screen, although I can think of two trials I covered that were … perhaps that’s another blog.

Yes, we’ve talked with some of our readers who say lay people get a bad impression about lawyers and judges from TV shows and movies. But not all of those characters are buffoons or greedy, unethical cads. On the good end of the scale of legal characters, most people would mention Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Denzel Washington’s Joe Miller in “Philadelphia.” Or Albert Finney’s Ed Masry in “Erin Brockovich.” I admit I don’t watch a lot of TV so I can’t recall at the moment any “good” lawyers on TV shows or in recent movies. But back to my friend’s experience … let’s recall some of the worst legal characters – lawyers and judges – in TV and movies.

In recent years, consider the attorneys of “Boston Legal” – bad attorneys or just overly zealous and quirky? How about Jim Carrey’s character in “Liar, Liar.” Richard Gere’s Billy Flynn in “Chicago.” Although I haven’t watched it, Glenn Close’s Patty Hewes in “Damages” is a supposedly revered litigator … one that also is being investigated by the FBI.

What about Paul Newman’s alcoholic Frank Galvin in “The Verdict.” Sean Penn’s Dave Kleinfeld, a drug-addicted lawyer in “Carlito’s Way.” Of course there’s always Joe Pesci’s Vincent Gambini in “My Cousin Vinny.” The partners at Tom Hank’s law firm in “Philadelphia” beginning with Jason Robard’s character. There of course are the likeable ones who do bad things, like Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen in “The Godfather” movies. There are more than I could even name here … there are research papers, and maybe even books, on this topic!

So, while you’re standing around the grill with your favorite beverage in hand or while you’re waiting for the fireworks to start, start the conversation, “Hey, who’s the worst lawyer ever on TV or in the movies?”
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  • Who could be worse than Al Pacino\'s John Milton in The Devils\' Advocate?
  • Tom Cruise\'s closing argument in the midst of crossing Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men is always amusing.

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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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