June, 2010

An Eye On Kenya

I have been paying attention to Kenya’s attempt to put a new Constitution in place, particularly as it applies to freedom of expression and hate speech. The constitution will be voted on in August.

Kenya, while having some guarantees of free expression in place, takes a much different view on hate speech than the United States. They experience it differently on a cultural and ethnic level.  Hateful rhetoric similar to speech targeting Jews, Muslims, Hispanics and other religious and ethnic minorities that we may find despicable but part of a free society has resulted in full scale riots in Kenya.  They are therefore much more sensitive to the relationship between words, violence and ethnic incitement.

Kenya’s hate speech laws read as follows under Section  Section 62 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act 2008:

Any person who utters words intended to incite feelings of contempt, hatred, hostility, violence or discrimination against any person, group or community on the basis of ethnicity or race, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one million shillings, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both or a newspaper, radio station or media enterprise that publishes the utterances referred to in subsection (1) commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one million shillings.”

Section 13 of the Act stipulates that a person is liable to be charged with hate speech when he or she uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or displays any written material.

Think that would fly here in the United States?

I found of particular interest, an opinion piece written by John Orso on the allAfrica.com web site entitled “Hate Speech Must Be Penalised“referring to the recent arrests of Kenyan politicians on hate speech charges. He wrote:

After the turmoil which followed the 2007 general elections, Kenyans developed certain sensitivities which every politician and public speaker needs to observe whenever addressing the public. On its part, the government has no option but to ensure that laws against hate speech and incitement are applied. In any case, such laws can only serve their purpose as preventative measures”

If that article was written regarding U.S. politician and media exhortations, we would probably snicker.  As long as Glenn Beck or some other political pundit does not exhort us to go out and commit murder, it’s no holds barred with the ratings winner to he or she or screams the loudest and in the most outrageous fashion. Accusations of hate speech routinely fly back and forth here. In reality, they have no standardized meaning so no one cares on a societal level.  It’s just speech.  Words don’t hurt, unless you live in Kenya.  In Kenya it’s life or death.  As we bask in the glory of free speech and the right to say the outrageous at no cost but to our dignity, lets not lose site of the fact that words are sticks and stones, just not here…

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Threatening Judges And Jurors

A federal appeals court has ruled that a lower court should not have dismissed a charge that avowed Virginia white supremacist, William White, made postings on his web site urging others to harm a juror.

In 2008, White published the name, photograph, home address and phone number of a juror on his site in an entry entitled “The Juror Who Convicted Matt Hale.” The juror had been foreman of a jury that convicted another white supremacist, Matthew Hale, of soliciting the murder of a federal judge.

White had earlier written on his website that “everyone associated with the Matt Hale trial has deserved assassination for a long time.”

In dismissing the charge last July, U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman noted that White broke no laws when he dug up the publicly available contact information for the juror and posted it to overthrow.com.  Adelman further stated that:

“An intimidating context alone does not remove the protection of the First Amendment.”

Where do we draw the line between hubris/intimidation and true threat?   In these types of cases, context is king and intent is queen.  While the the linchpin here seems to be the posting of the address in conjunction with the other posts, it should be noted that the information was publicly available.  It however, is all part of context.  White was not some flaky loner nut case.  He was an avowed white supremacist.  He had a following.  Does this type of context take it beyond intimidation into the world of imminent incitement to violence against the juror? While I have misgivings about whether these facts fall outside the 1st Amendment,  it seems clear that if you you post addresses, even publicly available,  in conjunction with even vague threats, it will be looked at in a more critical light even if the threats in themselves would be protected.  What also seems clear is that there is no bright line standard for these types of cases.  It’s all about context.

An interesting side note is that one of the appellate judges in this case,  Richard Posner recently testified as a witness in the case against Neo-Nazi radio shock jock Hal Turner who was charged with encouraging his readers to murder Posner and two other federal judges in retaliation for upholding the Chicago handgun ban which was recently struck down by the Supreme Court. Did that case have any influence on the decision here?  In the Turner case, Posner and the other judges testified that they felt threatened by Turner’s posts.  Posts that were not much different in tone and if anything more explicitly threatening than White’s posts. That case has resulted in two mistrials

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Great Courtroom Movies

Being an attorney, I have an attraction to movies that revolve around lawyers or courtrooms. It is often entertaining to watch how the realities of litigation and law are blurred,butchered and disregarded altogether in the name of entertainment or dramatic license.

Here is the list of my personal favorite courtroom movies as well as one that in my opinion are guilty of legal malpractice.  It is not meant to be a definitive list of all-time great or stinker  courtroom movies.  If I am missing any you feel are great, feel free to add it to the list!  There are also good movies that revolve around lawyers but I do not view as courtroom movies such as Twelve Angry MenThe Firm, The Client The Pelican Brief and Michael Clayton.

Movies like Liar Liar, My Cousin Vinny and Legally Blonde are hilarious. I did not include comedies. The reason is that no matter how funny the movie may be, there is really no character or individuality. They all basically revolve around making courtroom dialogue humorous.

To Kill A Mockingbird:

On every top ten list there is.  Atticus Finch, a depression era, small town Alabama lawyer agrees to defend a young black man who is accused of raping a white woman.  His friends and others in the community try to get Atticus to pull out of the trial, but he decides to go ahead. There is not a happen ending as you would expect in the Deep South of that period. If you have seen this movie, you should also watch Ghosts Of Mississippi.


It took me a while to see Fracture.  When I finally got around to it, I was not disappointed.  The great performance of Anthony Hopkins aside, the movie had me more engrossed in the legal issues presented than the plot drama.  Would double jeopardy prevent a person from being tried for murder after being found not-guilty for the attempted murder of the same person?  Would the various confessions given by Anthony Hopkin’s character been excluded?  Fracture is an amalgamation of about ten different Law And Order episodes. This is one of the few movies where the legal issues in themselves kept my attention.

The Verdict:

This is my favorite courtroom movie of all time.  I can watch it over and over. Paul Newman in my opinion, gives his greatest acting performance. What lawyer out there cannot identify with getting that one big case that will cure what ails the human condition?  A case that that not only redeems society but redeems the down and out alcoholic attorney played by Newman.   He battles a crappy case, biased judge, reluctant witnesses and a crooked law firm defending the Catholic Church.  You get so sucked into Paul Newman’s character that you completely disregard any courtroom tactics that would be questionable in real life.  David vs. Goliath courtroom movies are a dime a dozen and only work if they bring you into the story so you become David. Watch this movie and you will be David for two hours.

The Rainmaker.

Based on the book of the same title by John Grisham.   In my opinion, this is one of the few Grisham books that ends up translating well to the big screen.  The young inexperienced attorney representing the poor family unable to speak for themselves up against the big bad insurance company. How do you not get sucked into Matt Damon’s character? The young attorney with no money trying his first case, up again the big time corrupt defense firm.  Are there any courtroom movies out there that put defense firms in a positive light? The only people in this country who do not want to put a whop ass on a big bad insurance company are the people who work for the insurance company.   By the time the movie is over you want to go hire a lawyer to sue an insurance company, any insurance company.

A Few Good Men:

You have to get past the fact that the plot hinges on the star witness, a Marine Corps General played by Jack Nicholson suddenly collapsing like a used air bag under cross examination, handing the defense its’ case.  The odds of this happening in real life?   Play the Powerball Lottery this week.   You have a better shot.  Jack had to give it up under cross to make the movie work.   It’s still a great movie.  One of those movies worth watching just to watch every scene with Jack Nicholson.  A serviceable performance by Tom Cruise as the under-dog unappreciated and initially apathetic military defense attorney.  Watch it for Jack though.

A Civil Action:

Based on the book “A Civil Action”.  It is a true story. Real life attorney Jan Schlichtmann up against the big bad corporate giants who are spilling toxic substances into the drinking water of Woburn, Massachusetts causing cancer clusters in the children.  I don’t want to give away the entire story but you have an attorney coming to understand himself at the cost of everything he once was, morally, financially, emotionally. I warn you that this is a SLOW movie. It is very deliberate as is the very long book.  It needs to be to work.  It works in that it is deliberate but never boring. You will come away from this movie with a better understanding of the frustrations that many attorneys face in trying to do the right thing and getting so sucked into to trying to do the right thing that you lose sight of what the right thing really is.  John Travolta gives a great performance as Jan Schlichtmann He brings you right into his character to such a degree that you hang on each work and move quickly through any slow parts of the movie. Interesting paradox here. Robert Duvall is portrayed as an honest defense attorney for the corporate giant when in reality the defense firm involved was found to have engaged in less than ethical conduct.


This movie is not for everyone. It is slow. It is hard to follow. It involves a mutiny on a slave ship traveling towards the coast of the United States. The story revolves around the trial of the slaves who led the revolt. I can sum up my review this way: Did watch the HBO mini-series John Adams? Then watch this movie. Why? John Quincy Adams, the son of Second President John Adams Jr. was the lawyer who defended the slaves who had revolted and killed their captors.  Good performances by Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams. This slave controversy in this case became a prelude to The Civil War.


This is the first big star motion picture that I am aware of that addresses AIDS discrimination.  Great performance by Tom Hanks as a big city Philadelphia lawyer with AIDS. His law firm discovers his condition and cans him.   Denzel Washington is great as the stereotypical ambulance chaser who finds a conscience and a cause. I don’t think this is a very good movie from a technical standpoint.  Both lawyers make too many speeches The court testimony about Hank’s characters sexual orientation and sexual habits would probably never come into evidence.

Miracle on Thirty Fourth Street (The 1947 Original)

The existence of Santa Clause on trial? How could this not be on my list?

Ghosts of Mississippi:

A movie about the 1994 trial of  Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of the 60s civil rights leader Medgar Evers.  De La Beckwith had been tried twice with each trial(with all white juries) ending in a mistrial.  He is tried for the third and final time 30 years later.  He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. De La Beckwith died in prison in 2001. He was 80 years old.  The trial made national news as one of the longest delays between arrest and final trial in United States history. It is also widely regarded as historically symbolic of the transition of Mississippi to more progressive views on racial equality.  This is an unappreciated movie with an under-appreciated performance by Alec Baldwin as Bobby Delaughter, the district attorney determined to get justice but facing huge evidentiary obstacles and  initial resistance by Medger’s widow, Myrlie Evers, played by Whoopie Goldberg.  Evers later went on to become the national head of the NAACP.   In a strange twist of the “Ghosts” arising, the real  Bobby Delaughter, now disbarred,  is currently serving a prison sentence for  Obstruction Of Justice.

Judgment at Nuremberg:

The first film to address the trial of the Nazi’s accused of war crimes after World War II otherwise known as The Nuremberg Trials.

Primal Fear:

This movie has absolutely absurd courtroom dialogue but the story line and performances by Edward Norton and Richard Gere are so good that you really don’t care.

Music Box

This is one of the few movies dealing with the issues of aging former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers who committed war crimes living in the United States.  Jessica Lange and Armin Mueller-Stah give great performances. The movie is loosely based on the true story of John Demjanjuk who is currently being tried in Germany for alleged Nazi war crimes.

While the premise of a daughter representing her father on trial with such high stakes is a stretch, it works well here.  Jessica’s emotional opening statement is also unrealistic and inadmissible. The movie is incredibly moving on all levels. You are torn between her father as a loving grandfather and a brutal murderer guilty of terrible war crimes. In an interesting twist of life imitating art, the father of Joe Eszterhas who wrote the screenplay, was accused of writing anti-Semitic propaganda before and during World War II. Like the character in Music Box, his father denied being the person who wrote these materials. Mr. Ezterhas denies knowing anything about his father’s past at the time he wrote the screenplay.

Class Action:

This movie is based on the Ford Pinto Rear End End Explosion cases. Gene Hackman is great as the both idealistic and cynical plaintiff’s attorney going after the huge car maker. Once again a defense firm is portrayed as as unethical. They hide then destroy key evidence in the case. The conduct of the character played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, while portrayed as noble in the movie would have probably resulted in her disbarment in real life. She knows a partner in her firm has destroyed evidence. She tells the other side(who happens to be her father) about it. She also gives them a corroborating witness not previously known about.  Noble maybe, but probably career ending.

Presumed Innocent:

This is one of the great courtroom movies of the last 20 years both in style and drama. Great performances by both Harrison Ford and Brian Dennehy. A show stealing supporting performance is turned in by the late  Raul Julia.

And Justice For All:

Al Pacino’s great courtroom flick. (I refuse to put The Devil’s Advocate on there) The movie is technically ludicrous and it is supposed to be!  That is the whole point. The point is that the legal system is ludicrous and often forces attorneys to choice between morality and victory. While the drama is exaggerated the message is right on. The closing scene is one of the most over-the-top yet great endings in the annals of courtroom movies. The below video says it all.

Inherit The Wind:

As strange as it would seem today, at one time it was illegal in many states to teach the theory of  evolution in the class room. Today with the separation of church and state we have come 180 degrees.  It can be argued that there is a similar controversy present day regarding the  teaching of  Intelligent Design in public schools.  Inherit The Wind is a dramatization of the real life Scopes Money Trial. Great performance if not over the top by Spencer Tracy.

That’s my list. Are there other good courtroom movies?  Of course. These were the ones that I can watch over and over. Some other courtroom movies I found entertaining but didn’t make my watch over and over list are,

Rules of Engagement

Hart’s War:

Red Corner:

Now for the ugly. Ugly is tougher.  It is much easier to agree on what constitutes good art than bad art.  When a movie is bad you try to forget it. Some movies are so bad as to become “cult classics”. Bad art has become an art form in itself.   Here is my list of bad courtroom movies. They are nonredeemable in areas of legal reality, legal form and suspension of disbelief.  I say this understanding that no one sets out to make a bad movie. Some of these movies are entertaining as a whole but sub standard from a courtroom perspective.suspect1


This is No 1. on my list as the worst courtroom movie of all time. Start with the unbelievable story line of a sitting juror helping a public defender solve a case. Move on to completely moronic courtroom dialogue from Cher. She sounds like she never finished high school let alone law school. End with a judge who murders people to protect a biased ruling in case. Throw in Liam Neesom as a wrongly accused homeless mute.  His entire dialogue is about 10 grunts.  You need more than suspension of disbelieve to enjoy this movie. You need to be on LSD. This movie has no courtroom validity, terrible acting and a ludicrous story line. Suspect is hands down the worst courtroom movie of all time. A death sentence for Suspect.

Body of Evidence:body-of-evidence

If you have never seen a lawyer give someone a handjob in an elevator this is the movie to see.   Despite lack of any redeeming value as a movie, it has  achieved cult status for that scene alone. This movie was so bad I could barely sit through it and I was on my couch. Madonna should have been convicted of public lewdness for making people pay hard earned money to see her naked in this clunker. I laughed every time she opened her mouth and it was not a comedy. She is a terrible actor. The film was so bad that the author, Patricia Cornwell, attempted to get all reference to the book removed from the credits. This movie has an overused story line, no courtroom validity and terrible acting.  I find Body Of Evidence guilty of Indecent Exposure.

The Jagged Edge:Jagged_Edge

This is not a terrible courtroom movie. Jeff Bridges saves it from being a complete mistrial. There is no doubt attorneys have had sexual relationships with their client during the course of case. The character played by Glenn Close does not seem to have a care in the world about the ethics of sleeping with her client in the middle of his murder trial. He is on trial for the brutal killing of his wife.   Her character has not practiced criminal law in years. Her firm is going to let her handle a high profile murder case? This movie has decent acting but no courtroom validity. Check this flick out to see Glenn Close in court in a dress so tight that the judge never looks at the defendant or the other attorney.

Find Me Guilty: find_me_guilty

Based on the true story of Jack DiNorscio, a mobster who defended himself in court for what would be the longest mafia trial in U.S. history. I am not a huge fan of Vin Diesel. I liked him in Saving Private Ryan and Boiler Room and not much else. He does ok here. He could play the role of pretty much any mobster. He has that look. The movie itself is tedious and boring. It should have been cut by 30 minutes or done as a television mini-series. I know some critics liked it but I felt like I was reading a book. Apparently the general public found this movie tedious and boring as well. It made 1.1 million dollars on a 13 million budget. There are numerous books written on this trial. Go that direction instead of the movie

The Devil’s Advocate:devils_advocate_ver2

I am not sure this is even a courtroom movie. I am including it because a great deal of the movie does revolve around courtroom dialogue. The courtroom scenes are so ludicrous as to be comical. Are they supposed to be comical? The counter argument is that the courtroom scenes are structured to give context to the overall plot which is that the Devil is the father of the character played by Keanu Reeves. Could they have not made the the legal aspect even a little believable? I understand that this movie did great at the box office and has an entertaining premise. It is still a stinker legally speaking.

Runaway Jury:RunawayJury

I view this book as one of John Grisham’s weakest efforts. Translating it into a watchable movie was an uphill battle. The problem with this movie is that all of the standard Grisham plot twists and sub plots that work on a decent level in the book have a completely artificial feel. It tries to move in so many different directions so frantically that none of it works. Is this supposed to be a study in jury dynamics? If you are looking for that watch Twelve Angry Men. This movie has no idea what it wants to be. The dialogue between the judge and jurors is ridiculous.  Runaway from this movie.

High Crimes:high-crimes-poster-0

The movie starts out with with a fun premise. A military wife(Ashley Judd) and lawyer whose husband(James Caviezel) is arrested for war crimes. The problem is that she never even knew he was in the military. The writers should have just run with that. The movie morphs into an absurd military courtroom drama. The courtroom dialogue rivals Suspect. We are supposed to suspend our disbelief that that the wife who is supposed to be a seasoned criminal attorney would actually be stupid enough to represent her husband who is facing the death penalty.  I love Morgan Freeman as an actor but he is terrible in this movie. His performance feels as if he took the role because he had nothing better to do. High Crimes is guilty of High Treason.

True Believer:truebeliever

This is a great drama but a terrible courtroom flick. It is based on the true story of Chol Soo, a Korean immigrant wrongfully convicted for the 1973 killing of Yip Yee Tak, a San Francisco Chinatown gang leader and sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, he was sentenced to death for the self-defense killing of another prisoner. The part of the movie dealing with the actual incident is great and worth seeing. The movie falls off the believability cliff when for dramatic purposes, it adds a bizarre conspiracy culminating in a an equally bizarre closing argument and courtroom confession by the District Attorney of San Francisco .

James Woods gives a great performance as a disillusioned former civil rights attorney who attempts to expose the conspiracy. This movie works wonderfully right up until the courtroom scenes. The zany, unrealistic dialogue and courtroom maneuvers propel this movie right into the crappy courtroom flick zone. You actually have to see it to be a “True Believer” in how idiotic the these scenes are. See the movie but try not to laugh to hard at the courtroom antics.

The Juror:thejuror

Demi Moore was better in Striptease. What does that tell you?


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Lets Get Naked In Times Square!

You can not spend any decent amount of time in New York City’s Times Square without seeing or “running into” the Naked Cowboy.  It’s a guy named Robert Burck who, wearing nothing but a pair tightly fitting perv shorts,  plays his guitar for the tourists, gawkers and registered sex offenders looking for a quick visual fix.

I have seen Burck in his guitar playing “nakedness”.  There is always a crowd around him.  Some get their photos taken, get serenaded, gawk at his physique, even get married.  I have always drifted to the other side of the street. Even letting my eyes fix for a millisecond would be the equivalent of a trip to a male strip club and possibly necessitate years of counseling about my sexual inadequacies.  That being said, I rarely see any guys getting their photo taken with him.

Until this day however, I had no idea that there was also a Naked Cowgirl who, for the last 30 years, has been pandering her wares and “talent” in NYC in much the same manner as the Cowboy.  Apparently in too much the same manner as she has allegedly been accused of trademark infringement by Burck.

According to a cease-and-desist order Kane received from Burck, the Cowgirl’s name and act infringes upon the Naked Cowboy trademark.  Burck is asking Kane to pay him $5,000 per year or $500 per month to use the trademark as part of a franchise agreement.

I don’t know how the legal battle will resolve but I support the right of anyone to get naked in Times Square with or without guitar.  That’s the naked truth!

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