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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