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November 15, 2010

Lawyers and "The Social Network"

The Social Network has been rightfully acclaimed as one of the best films of 2010.  What I want to focus on is the film's positive portrayal of lawyers.  In a film whose subtitle might have been "College Kids Go Wild," the film's lawyers are refreshing models of reason.

The Social Network depicts the dramatic events leading to the creation and development of Facebook.  Depositions in two civil damages lawsuits against Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's creator, are the backdrop for the story. During the depositions scenes, lawyers question and defend Zuckerberg and interact with each other. 

Amazingly for a Hollywood movie, the lawyers behave professionally and competently.  Certainly the lawyers reflect their clients' emotions and beliefs in the merits of their claims. But the lawyers don't scream or try to humiliate anyone.  At least one of Zuckerberg's lawyers also displays sincere concern for his personal well-being. If other movies take their cues from the success of The Social Network, perhaps movies will stop depicting lawyers as greedy and unethical pond scum.   

December 1, 2009

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods, the great golf pro, has gotten nothing more than a traffic ticket for careless driving after backing his car into a fire hydrant and a tree.

So much for Tiger being a great driver.  If I had to choose between avoiding trees when I'm driving a car and avoiding them when I'm playing golf, I'll choose the former every time.

October 2, 2009

Roman Polanski- The US should recall its arrest warrant.

Roman Polanski, the famous film director, pled guilty in 1977 in LA Superior Court to sexually violating 13 year old Samantha Gaimer.  He fled to Europe before Judge Lawrence Rittenband (now deceased) could hand down a sentence.  Polanski has been a public figure all over Europe, but he has never (officially) returned to the US.  Thus, Polanski's case has been in abeyance for 32 years.  For reasons that are not clear, a few days ago, in Sept. 2009, Switzerland decided to enforce a US warrant and arrested Polanski.  Switzerland now has to decide whether to extradite him to the US for sentencing.  The issue has created a worlwide furor.

Those who focus on Polanski's horrible criminal act do not want to reward him for avoiding capture and argue that justice delayed can still constitute justice.  Those who focus on the Judge Rittenband's alleged misconduct in meeting privately with a prosecutor and on the passage of time argue that Polanski has in effect already been sufficiently punished and that putting him in jail now would be a waste of time and money.

Since both arguments are reasonable, let's give Samantha Geimer the last word.  She's been saying for years that she's put the case behind her and that she does not want Polanski to go to jail.  If Ms. Geimer were still a minor, or if she were in psychological disarray as a result of the crime, perhaps we could discount her opinion. But she's made a mature and considered judgment, and we ought to respect her autonomy.  Under the circumstances, we should not be angrier at Polanski than is the woman who he abused.  The US should recall the arrest warrant and provide Switzerland with a graceful exit from a no-win situation.     

July 16, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor, Perry Mason, and Fight Club

Sonia Sotomayor, Perry Mason and Fight Club. As they might ask on Sesame Street, which of these is not like the others? It turns out that they're all related. As a young girl in the 1950s, Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor was inspired by the Perry Mason TV show to become a lawyer and seek justice.  She's not alone.  Many students who came of age during the 1960s were inspired to go to law school by the heroic images of the law and lawyers provided by films such as To Kill a Mockingbird, 12 Angry Men, and Inherit the Wind, and the classic TV show The Defenders.  Similarly, law school applications soared during the late 1980's, partly in response to the glamorous portrayals of lawyers' lives in the TV show LA Law.

For at least one New York teenager, the film Fight Club is also inspirational. The film's main character (played by Brad Pitt) plans to sabotage corporate America by destroying property during a crime spree dubbed "Project Mayhem".  The film apparently inspired Kyle Shaw to bomb a Starbucks coffee shop on Manhattan's Upper East Side on May 25, 2009. 

Popular culture is the common thread that links all these examples.  We consume it daily and may not even be aware of its influence on our attitudes and actions.  Films and TV may be especially influential, since the production values are often high and the characters are often so memorable.  As for what might inspire future Supreme Court nominees, perhaps we should look at the entertainment pages and round up the usual suspects.  I heard that once upon a time in a movie.