Thursday, August 21, 2008

And Justice for All, or why I hate attorney movies, by Andy

FYI to the group - I'm very hesitant to give up my hotmail email address in favor of a less-easy-to-remember gmail address, so my posts all go on as Jason's posts. Hopefully he's not too embarrassed by me.....

I hate lawyer movies, but it's not just because they don't get it right. Here's my background: I am an attorney. I am a career public defender. I love it, I have no apologies, and I don't want to do anything else. I do get weary from answering "how do you defend someone you know to be guilty," but I smile and give an answer that I hope will reeducate the inquisitor of our fundamental system of government and justice (that he or she should have learned in 8th grade US History). Yes, I'm a little bit of an elitist when it comes to the subject, and if you ask me, I'll tell you that Jesus was the ultimate public defender.

So here's my problem with lawyer movies: the movies either seem to glorify the defense attorney who fights through the stigma of defending someone he/she knows to be innocent but whom the general public believes to be the worst of all criminals; or, the movies vilify the attorney who practices unethically and gets or attempts to get his client acquitted of criminal charges to which the client is unquestionably guilty. The movies never seem to address the attorney who fights hard, but ethically, for a client who may be guilty but where the evidence is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I'm not sure that it would make a good Hollywood story, but I've got several clients/cases with varying outcomes that would accurately depict the one impossibility in our system of justice: determining the truth. In most case that actually go to trial, the truth is impossible to know. As a defense attorney, it is my responsibility and duty to bring to light any and all facts that might present a defense to a charge, or that might cast doubt on the guilt of my client.

Oh that's right....I was writing about a movie. "And Justice for All" really tries to show the many facets of a law practice. He has an innocent client for whom he is desperately trying to exonerate. He's got a client who has participated in a crime, but for whom a level of culpability was not certain (the tranny). And then he's got the unrealistic high-profile bad man who wants him to cheat and be unethical. The latter, in my experience, doesn't generally exist. I and my fellow defense attorneys do not and would not fabricate evidence or allow its introduction, nor would we knowingly allow our client to perpetrate a fraud on the court. We just wouldn't do it. As much as we believe in the constitution and in protecting people charged with crimes, we believe in law and order. I like cops and prosecutors, and as a citizen, I want them to do a great job and properly prosecute those charged with crimes.

So what really bugs me about this movie is that the story ends with Pacino deciding between continuing with his career (and in so doing cheating through a rape trial) or divulging that his client is guilty and the scum of the earth (and in so doing violating his client's confidentiality and causing his disbarment from the legal profession). It's ridiculous. It never has to be that way, but I grow weary of attorney movies that suppose the dilemma. By the way, the resolve in "The Firm" is a perfect example of how it should work (though I am not ready to comment further on that film).

I also didn't care for the arc of the friend who loses it when a guy he gets off of a murder charge "because of a technicality (or as I like to call it the "constitution")" turns around and kills a couple of kids. Preposterous, but without the underlying facts it's too difficult to make an appropriate comment.

Beyond those small little complaints that nobody else will care about, the movie was fascinating. I loved the many arcs that the movie carried, and I thought Pacino was masterful. The movie was delightfully uncomplicated despite its many twists and turns.

Nice pick Karl. Great movie- especially if you are almost legally insane and feel the urge to chuck plates down a corridor at various government officials.

1 comment:

Jason Pyles, Movie Critic said...


One thing I've recently learned from listening in court and also reading your post is that defense attorneys are there to make sure a person's constitutional rights are protected. Right? That's how I understand it. And, of course, a person is innocent until proven guilty, etc.

But I think the way you describe the reality of things, or what your day-to-day challenges really are, definitely seems interesting enough to make a movie about. That very dilemma that you describe in this post is something I've been able to witness (to a certain extent) in court, and I've found court to be comparably entertaining to the cinema. High drama.