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. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

  2. I've got some free speech to share here about who is at work via the cat's paw of the ACLU stamping out Christian observances.... 2 Thessalonians chap 2: "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

  3. Did someone not tell people who have access to the Chevy Volts that it has a gas engine and will run just like a normal car? The batteries give the Volt approximately a 40 mile range, but after that the gas engine will propel the vehicle either directly through the transmission like any other car, or gas engine recharges the batteries depending on the conditions.

  4. Catholic, Lutheran, even the Baptists nuzzling the wolf! http://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-documents-reveal-obama-hhs-paid-baptist-children-family-services-182129786-four-months-housing-illegal-alien-children/ YET where is the Progressivist outcry? Silent. I wonder why?

  5. Thank you, Honorable Ladies, and thank you, TIL, for this interesting interview. The most interesting question was the last one, which drew the least response. Could it be that NFP stamps are a threat to the very foundation of our common law American legal tradition, a throwback to the continental system that facilitated differing standards of justice? A throwback to Star Chamber’s protection of the landed gentry? If TIL ever again interviews this same panel, I would recommend inviting one known for voicing socio-legal dissent for the masses, maybe Welch, maybe Ogden, maybe our own John Smith? As demographics shift and our social cohesion precipitously drops, a consistent judicial core will become more and more important so that Justice and Equal Protection and Due Process are yet guiding stars. If those stars fall from our collective social horizon (and can they be seen even now through the haze of NFP opinions?) then what glue other than more NFP decisions and TRO’s and executive orders -- all backed by more and more lethally armed praetorians – will prop up our government institutions? And if and when we do arrive at such an end … will any then dare call that tyranny? Or will the cost of such dissent be too high to justify?

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