Who are you? Portrayals of vigilante justice in a celluloid world

By Finchley Atticus

Justice has a gun

Who are you? Who, who, who, who?

So opens each episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the erstwhile American TV forensic drama. The classic rock song “Who are you?” by British group The Who will for many TV viewers be associated with CSI. An apt theme than any, as expounded by communications expert and law graduate Lauren M. Hug.   “Who are you?” is asked by the CSI team to construct the victim’s identity, what happened to them, and how the world perceived the victim in often vicious circumstances.

Tragically it didn’t take long for us to learn about and mourn for Jill Meagher, the former ABC employee who in 2012, walking to her Brunswick home on that fateful night, suffered unimaginable cruelty at the hands of her rapist and murderer Adrian Bayley, subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. The community became further outraged as we learned more about Adrian Bayley, his violent past as a multiple-rapist prior to Jill Meagher’s death – revealed through his new rape trials in 2014 and 2015. Adding to the horror was the revelation that Bayley raped two of his victims just months prior to the rape and murder of Jill Meagher, and he was on parole at the time after serving a sentence for a series of  rapes in the 2000s.  No surprise that the Victorian Adult Parole Board apologised to Jill Meagher’s husband, Tom, for its failure to cancel Bayley’s parole after he pleaded guilty to assault in 2012, several months before the horror inflicted on Jill Meagher.

I really wanna know, who are you? Who, who, who who?

Amidst the disgust and outrage, the public looked in a certain direction to ask “who are you?” One letter writer to the Sydney Morning Herald wondered why the names of the Parole Board were unavailable on their website.    Noel McNamara, President of the Crime Victims Support Association wondered “With the parole board…no one knows who is really on there.”

Tell me, who are you? Who, who, who, who?

I should stress it’s not uncommon for government authority websites to omit their membership listing.  VCAT no less doesn’t list its members on its website. Same with the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.  For the record, the Adult Parole Board’s membership is available in its annual reports which can be downloaded.

Cause I really wanna know, who are you? Who, who, who, who?

I suspect a major public misconception about murder trials is that evidence must be presented explaining why the deed was committed. No doubt thanks to legal dramas with the words “murder” or “death” (looking at you Murder She Wrote, Death in Paradise and Midsomer Murders), the public demands to know why, not just who. And I think the questions abounding about who are the Parole Board members – which are legitimate questions after all, as it is a taxpayer-funded authority – somehow seek to provide a window into why the Board made its fateful decision in the Matter of Adrian Bayley. If we don’t even know who they are, how can we even look into their eyes to examine their soul? Who? Why? How about what if? What if the Parole Board had revoked Bayley’s parole months prior to Jill Meagher’s death, which would have been in tune with community expectations. But surely it’s pure fantasy for the courts or tribunals to skew its independence to the will of the hoi polloi?

Reagan-Bush revisited (1981 – 1993)

I’ve never embraced the popularity of fantasy sports but I can understand the democratic appeal to dedicated sports fans who put themselves in the selector’s seat by handpicking their sports warriors to do justice, something which those well-intentioned but weak-minded real-life selectors just cannot get a grip on. For some it’s the ultimate wish-fulfilment to make wrongs right.

The TV and movie industry embodies a kind of democracy of ideals and wish-fulfilment, creating a fantasy world and entertaining no less, for public consumption. Legal drama screenwriters are no exception. The world through the creative lens of some screenwriters represents –  in an entertaining way designed with a keen eye on box office dollars or TV ratings – the way they think (or the way the public should think) judges should get a grip on achieving justice for innocent folk in a broken legal system that fails the hoi polloi. Consider these screenwriters Your Ombudsman who exercise imaginative and creative authority to restore justice.

When I graduated from Monash Law School, the 12-year conservative Republican Reagan-Bush era had wound down thanks to the American voters electing Democratic candidate Bill Clinton to the White House.  Some may remember the Reagan-Bush years as embodying the “tough on street crime” philosophy – although curiously many moneyed denizens of Wall Street appeared to be exempt from this hard-line approach to law and order thank you very much. This tough attitude arose from the view (rightly or wrongly) that well-meaning judges who stuck by the rule book were restrained from throwing the book at the criminals because Their Honours were frustratingly outplayed by smart and sneaky lawyers who deviously got their violent clients off the hook due to some obscure and dusty legal technicality, aided by some liberal-leaning law professors who have never seen the inside of the court room and always found time to serve pro bono on marijuana advocacy groups.

It seems that pre-Reagan era of movies from the 70s featuring everyday vigilantes frustrated with a broken legal system – cue Charles Bronson’s Death Wish saga and any film fronted by Clint Eastwood – ushered in judicial vigilantes a decade later. So how were judges – often unfairly perceived as ratifiers of a broken legal system – co-opted by screenwriters as robed vigilantes?  For one thing judges have a higher public profile in the USA. Supreme Court nominees steel themselves for prime time, having every aspect of their judicial and private lives combed through by senators and the media as they prepare for televised and gladiatorial confirmation hearings. Many judges are at the mercy of the electorate at the ballot box, and in some instances have been turfed out of chambers by voters seeking to balance the scales of justice.

The Star Chamber (1983)

The Star Chamber is one movie borne of Reagan-Bush that personified judges more concerned with seeking to right wrongs perpetrated by violent criminals who gleefully escape conviction thanks to their first class attorneys and a second rate legal system.  Michael Douglas plays Los Angeles Judge Steven R Hardin – we know that because of the shiny gold nameplate on the bench –who is frustrated at having to reject evidence gathered from a garbage truck sans search warrant, despite the accused confessing to multiple murders.  Soon afterwards Judge Hardin is bound to throw out key evidence against two men arrested for the murder of a 10 year old boy, with the boy’s father pleading to Hardin, “That is my little boy, not a point of law.” Hardin’s had enough and finds himself inducted to The Star Chamber, a group of judges meeting secretly in a smoke-filled room (being the 80s, most of them smoked) to pass sentence on the garbage who have slipped through the legal cracks. To ensure they are at arms-length they engage an anonymous assassin to execute the sentence forthwith. The fact these judges exercise unorthodox and extra-judicial authority to restore justice is not definitely ultra vires in this fantasy world.  Whether you like The Star Chamber or not, three words can be associated with it: explosions, gunfire and violence.

Dark Justice (1991 – 1993)

As a cop I lost my collars to legal loopholes…but I believed in the system.

As a DA I lost my cases to crooked lawyers…but I believed in the system.

As a judge my hands were bound by the letter of the law…but I believed in the system.

Until it took my life away…and then I stopped believing in the system, and started believing in justice.

So intones Judge Nicholas Marshall (portrayed by Ramy Zada in the first season, then Bruce Abbott for the remainder of its run) at each episode opener.  The TV series Dark Justice wrapped up the Reagan-Bush years, and in each episode Judge Marshall convened a Star Chamber backed by The Night Watchmen (dubbed by an inquisitive journalist), some of whom were reformed criminals, seeking to bring criminals to justice – all within 45 minutes excluding commercials.  His Honour’s ominous catchphrase to criminals let off the hook due to legal technicalities is “Justice may be blind…but it can see in the dark.” Again: explosions, violence and gunfire.

Of course it would be pure fantasy (except in the eyes of a talented screenwriter) if a member of the Victorian Adult Parole Board was to set up a Star Chamber to restore justice for victims short-changed by a legal system blind to their concerns.  Really, it’s not as though someone aggrieved at being banned by the Chief Commissioner of Police from a casino can seek legal advice from the Chairman of the Parole Board on how to appeal the ban. Oh really?

 

Outsiders

Outsiders-5c

What’s the difference between a lawyer and a Spanish bull?*

David Rose

When my producer approached me about writing a piece for New Lawyer Language, I wasn’t quite sure what to say.

“Do you want to write an article about performing comedy and the law?”, she said.

Write about law? Sure, why not? Anything to take my mind off studying law. I love it, but it’s a little bit like watching a documentary about global warming. After a while, you need to take a break, drink some tea, and tell your relatives that you love them.

A friend once explained to me that the legal industry breaks down into two groups. The first group are born-to-be lawyers; they’re smart, they’re dedicated, they work overtime, and they’re absolutely no fun at dinner parties. These are people who begin sentences with “well, as a lawyer…”, as the rest of the party rolls their eyes and sharpens their cutlery under the table.

The second group, my friend explained, are frustrated performers. In many ways, the two groups are very similar. They’re both intelligent, hardworking, and persevering. They both work long hours. But only one of them starts a theatre company in their spare time. Which is what the team at BottledSnail Productions did.

BottledSnail Productions has – aside from one of the funniest names in legal history – an incredible group of people working behind the scenes. The company started as a way to give those frustrated performers an outlet, so that their sharp legal minds didn’t melt into mush. I have to say that their output has been extremely impressive. They’re produced everything from two law revues, to a one man sketch show, to a full-blown musical, to… well, to me. More specifically, “us”. This year, my friend Michael Shafar (a law graduate) and I are performing stand-up comedy at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Our show is called ‘Outsiders’, mainly because we took our promotional photos outside. I know, we are masters of nuance.

The show is based on our experiences as law students, as individuals, and as precocious political pundits. It’s been a great opportunity for us. You don’t get very many opportunities to perform stand-up for longer than 10 minutes unless you’re a professional comedian. And how do you become a professional? You start performing for longer than 10 minutes. It’s a little bit like that old retail conundrum of: “you need experience to get experience”. (In fact, come to think of it, the worlds of retail and stand-up comedy are actually very similar: neither pays very well, and both invariably involve being screamed at by drunken bogans. I should find a job at Kmart.)

Without the support and productions skills of BottledSnail, this show would have been an unmitigated disaster. Our venue would have been less hospitable to basic forms of life, our crowds smaller, and most importantly, we would have been without a support network. We owe them everything but money, and for that, I am thankful.

I would highly suggest coming to the show. Not only because I’m performing in it, but also to show your support for the crew at BottledSnail. Without them, the legal industry would be dominated by people in grey suits, with sharpened soup spoons protruding from their clavicles. And nobody wants that.

David Rose & Michael Shafar: Outsiders, presented by BottledSnail Productions, runs 26 Sep – 3 Oct at The Improv Conspiracy (19 Meyers Place, Melbourne) as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival

www.bottledsnail.com/outsiders

Tickets: $15/$12 from www.melbournefringe.com.au

* The lawyer charges more.

The Misery of the Mockingbird

mockingbird

By Finchley Atticus

“I’m your number one fan.” Annie Wilkes, Misery (1990)

Twenty five years I was enthralled by the suspense motion picture Misery at the cinema, watched between Monash law lectures.  Adapted from the eponymous Stephen King novel, it chillingly depicts a devoted fan running amok when the author she idolises goes off script. Paul Sheldon (a brilliant, sympathetic and restrained performance by James Caan) achieved fame writing a series of romantic novels featuring the fictional Misery Chastain. Paul is injured in a car accident during a snow blizzard whilst travelling back to the city, but fatefully is rescued by nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates deservedly earned her Oscar for her unforgettable performance).

Annie gushingly proclaims to a bed-ridden Paul that she is his “number one fan”. Annie is awed being in the presence of her literary hero and whilst nursing him back to health in her farmhouse, revels in tidbits of information gleaned from Paul about her favourite heroine Misery. Frighteningly for Paul, his surprising news that he killed off Misery in his latest novel unleashes an unrelenting and disturbing wave of wrath and fury from the somewhat obsessive Annie.

Oh Paul, how dare you kill off my Misery!! In dramatic and threatening fashion, Annie forces the recuperating Paul to bring Misery back to life by furiously typing up a new manuscript. For those unfamiliar with the movie, you’ll have to get the DVD to see the breathtaking and frenzied denouement.

What hasn’t been pretty recently is the recent revelation that Atticus Finch, our Atticus Finch, esteemed defender of justice for the under-privileged, has become a pro-segregationist who once attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting, harbouring at the very least bigoted and possibly racist views towards African-Americans.

What? Yes Atticus Finch, portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird (the 1960 novel and 1962 movie where Finch was perfectly personified – some would say glorified – by the great Gregory Peck), the Alabama lawyer who in the face of segregation, stood up for an innocent African-American client in the face of ingrained prejudice from those white southerners.

“We chose the name Atticus for our son over a year ago because we felt then that it embodied a beautiful form of selfless integrity. In light of To Set a Watchman…we no longer feel comfortable using his name. We have decided to legally change his name to Lucas.” Colorado parents David and Christen Epstein’s Facebook post after reading To Set a Watchman.

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s purported sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, is the 2015 novel that would cause Annie to redefine the Richter scale of wrath and fury even though Atticus didn’t die.  Well not physically. But judging from the reaction of anyone who idolised Atticus and what he stood for, for those who were inspired to enter law school because of Atticus, and those who even named their sons after him, his ideals are unequivocally six feet under.   We weren’t even invited to the burial.

I won’t speculate what motivated Harper Lee chose to publish Watchman 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird hit our bookshelves, or why she decided to instil the bigotry that Atticus displays post-Mockingbird. Although it’s worth noting that Ms Lee originally wrote Watchman but her editor at the time decided she should best write it from the innocent perspective of Scout – Atticus’s daughter. This became the author’s crowning achievement, the 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. One could also surmise the editor’s shrewd decision was a crowning achievement in the annals of book editing.

What’s fascinating is how many Atticus fans and acolytes are upset, distressed and disturbed by the fortunes (or misfortunes) of a fictional character. Without stating the obvious, Atticus Finch isn’t real.  He is the creation of an author, just as Misery Chastain was the creation of Paul Sheldon.

I’m afraid that Atticus Finch doesn’t belong to us. He is the creation of Harper Lee. Of course that’s not to disrespect the idealism of his fans. If anything we need more lawyers devoted to helping the underprivileged in a world where decent legal representation is a luxury many cannot afford.

It’s understandable to be emotionally attached to fictional characters especially those that display near heroic qualities that embody a sense of justice, hope and fairness in a nasty world. I’m sure though that no Atticus fans are in the same disturbing league as Misery’s Annie.

I can’t help but wonder how much Gregory Peck’s outstanding portrayal of Atticus Finch in the 1962 motion picture To Kill a Mockingbird did to further shape and influence a student’s career path or their child-naming choices.  I don’t think his depiction of the principled, courageous and gentlemanly Atticus can be understated.  After all, Gregory Peck gave us a sympathetic portrayal of a model of integrity, a widowed father to cute kids well before Ted Danson and Co showed us how to raise a newborn in Three Men and a Baby, and well before John Stamos and Co in Full House demonstrated how to raise the Olsen twins. Besides, Danson and Stamos didn’t defend underprivileged African-Americans from the death penalty.

In real life Gregory Peck displayed admirable traits. To his credit he was very prominent in social causes, advocating gun control and denouncing the Congressional witch-hunts of alleged Hollywood communists.  He opposed America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  Thankfully Peck didn’t have any skeletons in the closet. But what if he did? He would need a top-notch legal team and A-grade publicists for one thing, but putting that aside, I wonder how such indiscretions would have lowered Atticus Finch down a notch or two in the eyes of his fans and devotees.

“How will the new portrayal of Atticus Finch affect lawyers of that generation who were really young when To Kill a Mockingbird came out and were inspired to go to law school because of that?” Laura Marsh, “These Scholars Have Been Pointing Out Atticus Finch’s Racism for Years”, The New Republic, July 2015.

Well it shouldn’t really. Let’s not forget some academics have previously highlighted Atticus Finch’s motives were not entirely honourable (if one’s motives can ever be entirely honourable 24/7 – we’re human after all).  Maybe his blind spot only became visible when To Set a Watchman was published. Yet it’s understandable that law students hold Atticus Finch, especially as embodied by Mr Peck, as the ideal role model (the fact that some law students extol Harvey Specter as a role model is cause for concern). Mary Badham, the actress who will forever be idolised for her role as sweet and innocent Scout, recalls the ostracism she suffered when she returned to segregationist Alabama after her six-month stint in California filming To Kill a Mockingbird. Friends who previously welcomed the actress into her home declared her persona non grata. Not surprisingly, Ms Badham is continually adored by fans as she represents a living link to the innocence and integrity of To Kill a Mockingbird – the book and movie – that was an essential part of many people’s childhoods.

“Have you ever considered that men, especially men must confirm to certain demands of the community they live in simply so they can be of service to it?” A question asked by the uncle of Scout in Go Set a Watchman

Heroes aren’t perfect. Atticus Finch may have been a hero to many maybe because of his outstanding qualities in a world needing heroes.

Shock horror, news flash – a lawyer can be a true professional even if they hold views we find uncomfortable and even repugnant.  No-one has ever suggested that Atticus tanked his defence of Tom Robinson, although he was reluctant to take the brief. But the reality is lawyers can still act professionally despite their personal motives or who they represent.

We barely flinch when prosecutors “swap sides” to become defenders and maintain their professional edge and ability to defend hardened criminals, the ones they would have prosecuted earlier, although strangely I don’t know many defenders who cross the floor to become prosecutors.

“Harper Lee’s Lawyer Teases Possible Third Book” Vulture, 13 July 2015

The publication of a third Mockingbird book may be too incendiary – perhaps Scout marries a Klansman?  While we’re at it let’s transform Ella and Anna in the Frozen sequel into blossoming cougars preying on Malibu college students. But there’s hope. As a child of the 80s I remember the outrage when Bobby Ewing was killed off in Dallas, only to be brought back a year later at the stroke of a script writer’s pen. Remarkably it was all a dream. Sure, it stretched the bounds of credibility but at least the loyal viewers got their Bobby back.

We can only hope a third Atticus Finch book (maybe Mockingbird Redemption) reassures us that Watchman was one long nightmare which we endured for the sake of eventually ensuring our Atticus is truly redeemed. Besides it would give idealistic and well intentioned parents the opportunity to re-name their sons Atticus all over again.

Specialisation Does Not a Lawyer Make?

by Dean R P Edwards

I had been recently discussing the future prospects for a generalist practitioner with a fellow young lawyer. Specialisation is the buzzword these days and every other lawyer appends to their legal practice some kind of niche – be it Property & Real Estate, M&A, Insolvency, and so forth.

It is with some relief that Jonathan Sumption QC, a Justice of the UK Supreme Court, thinks this is a rather bad idea. (You can read more here, although the original story is hidden behind a Sunday Times paywall.)  Continue reading

Eureka: Democracy on Trial

On the 18th and 19th of March of this year, 160 years to the day, BottledSnail Productions, (in conjunction with the Supreme Court of Victoria) produced a reenactment of the trial of Timothy Hayes. Eureka: Democracy on Trial. A condensed version of the original transcript from the trial itself was performed in the Banco Court by a 16 person cast, largely made up of members of the Victorian Bar.

Mutton chops and live Irish fiddling included, the production retells the story of a man on trial for his life during one of the most controversial periods in our history. The trial, which recounts the incivility of the Ballarat goldfields, the bloody history of the Eureka stockade and the unrelenting protest of diggers against injustice and unfairness, came to life inside the Victorian Supreme Court on 18 and 19 of March.

The reenactment was performed in the incredibly ornate and well-preserved Banco Court; providing the ideal setting for the piece. The production commenced with a rousing Irish fiddler (Chris Fitzgerald of The Corkman) – immediately setting the scene and transporting the audience back in time. The script, skilfully put together, mimicked a modern-day trial, and we watched, as members of the public gallery, as our ‘learned friends’ opened and closed their cases. It was remarkable, given that the script was extracted from the original transcript itself, to observe how much things have (and haven’t) changed since 1855. Perhaps, most poignantly, what it means to be on trial for your life.

Timothy Hayes opens the trial by informing the judge, Justice Redmond Barry, that he will be represented by Mr Cope, a different lawyer than expected. One shudders to think about commencing proceedings with a new lawyer, and yet every year, hundreds of litigants arrive at court hoping the duty lawyer will be able to squeeze them in. Some don’t even seek representation.

Throughout the reenactment, a number of witnesses are called. Many of the witnesses for the prosecution talk of their involvement in what took place the morning of Sunday the 3rd of December, when troopers stormed the stockade. A large portion of the examination centres around who fired first, and whether or not the diggers rallied with an intention to overthrow the authorities, or to simply protest the excessive licence fees.

Although it may be hard for someone to relate to the experience of the miners (although I did just receive my car registration fee the other day, and my word that is expensive), one can’t help but reflect upon the tenacity and vivacity of those who did rally. The actions of the diggers speak volumes about the potential strength of a community when unity and purpose coincide, immediately bringing to mind current issues in the social and political domain.

The transcript is littered with verbose passages (thank goodness for Plain English), and occasional inappropriate comments from Counsel (“I would further remind you, gentlemen, that this charge of high treason has already been rejected by two juries, and I trust that, although you have been passed under the benign smile of the Crown Solicitor, you will not be harsher than others”). Justice Barry surprises counsel with part of his summing up (“My opinion is not to convict the prisoner”), and then before the reenactment ends, Timothy Hayes interrupts proceedings to speak directly to the judge.

Hayes’s interjection is both shocking and humbling at the same time. As the accused begins to talk, you can almost feel the lawyers in the audience begin to cringe. Anxious, desperate and indifferent to the potential consequences of acting out of turn, Hayes requests that his Honour allow the recall of a witness on a particular point. However, formalities and court etiquette aside, Hayes’s last-minute plea is not so surprising. Litigants, even those with representation, often feel voiceless or misunderstood during court proceedings. Whilst such feelings can manifest in the form of a ‘difficult’ client, it is a harrowing reminder that the lens through which the accused views proceedings will inevitably be markedly different to that of the lawyer. In a similar vein, Hayes’s appeal to the judge is equally shocking because one almost forgets that he is there, sitting in the dock, patiently observing. The focus of the trial resting upon the arguments and presentation of facts, it is easy to become absorbed in the ‘legality’ of it all. That is, perhaps most poignantly, the reenactment subtly comments on the humanity of the justice system, and what it means to be on trial for your life.

Jessica Terrill*

Jessica Terrill was the Assistant Director of Eureka: Democracy on Trial and is a law student at Monash University.

BottledSnail Productions has also launched a choir for the legal profession. Habeas Chorus is open to all members of Melbourne’s legal community, including practitioners, support staff and students.  An open rehearsal will be conducted on Monday, 30 March. Find out more and register your interest at: http://bit.ly/1wFUWV6

Serial

by Pamela Taylor-Barnett

Serial

“Hey, you HAVE to download this podcast, ‘Serial’” my friend said.  “I don’t do podcasts”, I responded dismissively – not yet having had my ears opened to this (not so new) form of narrative.  I was stuck in my ways, I’ll admit. Podcasts were boring, or audio-books – which were something my parents needed for their compulsory I’m-now-retired-I-have-to-drive-across-the-Nullabor journey. Not for me.

“No, seriously, you will love it, get it,” he insisted.  I sighed.  “Ok…”

One episode in and I’m thinking “Wow, this is different.” By Episode three I’ll admit, I was wondering if this series still had me.  I took a pause for a few weeks.

Then I drove to Canberra, from Melbourne.  I do this from time to time and I love the solitude. Do you get enough solitude? There is nothing like sinking into much needed solitude… I digress.

I have become that annoying friend now, who says “Hey, you HAVE to download this podcast, ‘Serial’”. It literally took my breath away in a couple of episodes.  I would be convinced that Adnan was not guilty and then I would hear the journalist put together some other facts and gasp.  Then, almost moments later I’d flip again.

Serial is podcast of a 12 episodes. It was put together by a journalist, Sarah Koenig, who became fascinated by the case of Adnan Syed, a 17 year old who has thus far served 15 years of a life sentence for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.  He still firmly claims innocence.  Over the course of a year, with a team of people, Koenig unpacked the case – intensively.  They researched every nook and cranny, interviewed many people the police didn’t, listened to audio and transcript, and spoke with Adnan and lawyers.

You HAVE to listen to this because:

  • It will make you think about what a lawyer’s duties are – did Adnan’s lawyer completely ‘screw up’? Did she fail to put evidence before the jury? Did she ask the right questions? Did she research – I mean really deep research, and how much research can you be expected to do as a lawyer on limited time? But this is a man’s life at stake… Whew. When we say we feel called to the law, we feel called to help, is this what some barristers mean when they give up their whole time to researching answers?
  • It will make you question society and community attitudes towards race and religion. Adnan is Muslim.
  • You will probably wonder about our system of justice (yes, this was in Baltimore, but we too have juries, lawyers and judges, and difficult appeals processes).
  • It will make you remember humans are fallible. We all perceive things, and remember things differently – and the danger of that in a courtroom. Truly, how dangerous. Was that person stoned or did they look anxious? Was there a phone booth in that building? Yes? No? Surely someone knows!! That sort of uncertainty scares me.
  • It will bring home for listeners the danger of relying on technology evidence, especially without experts, (in this case, it was phone towers that a mobile was connected to, and times of calls).
  • You will hear from jurors. Yes, they spoke about what went on. It’s interesting.
  • Plea bargains – what is their effect? Really? What about off the record conversations?
  • Finally, it’s an interesting story of young people, friends, and a tragic murder. It just happens to be true, it’s not fiction. And as a result of all this research, Adnan has been allowed to appeal his conviction, with lawyers filing these document recently.

I don’t know if Adnan did or did not kill Hae. But I would not have been able to convict on the evidence Serial gave me.  But the jurors did not have that evidence.

So, I say it to you, emerging and new lawyers… “You HAVE to download this podcast, Serial”.

http://serialpodcast.org/

 

Suits – real lawyers or just real entertainment?

suits1

By Amy Eager

I must confess that I am guilty of binge watching TV series and what would be considered bad TV series… including Made in Chelsea and Keeping up with the Kardashians. I know, I know they are far from intellectually stimulating material, but it is relaxing, you actually don’t have to think about anything and often is a mindless stress-free escape from my day to day routine.

Like many other lawyers, I am also partial to the sensationalised legal drama, that glamourises our profession in many ways, but nonetheless are still entertaining dramas. Law & Order SVU has always been my favourite, I mean who isn’t impressed that you can deliver an Oscar winning, closing argument with 5 minutes preparation, until I discovered Suits.

Suits follows the legal lives of it’s main characters, Harvey Specter (the best closer in New York), Louis Lit (the scariest senior associate you have ever seen), Jessica Pearson (the fearless Managing Partner), Mike Ross (the graduate lawyer), Rachel (the best paralegal ever) and Donna (the legal secretary every lawyer wishes they had) at the elite New York based commercial law firm Pearson Hardman.

The legal eagles of Suits

The legal eagles of Suits

Of course, Pearson Hardman only recruits their graduate lawyers from Harvard and the story follows the legal adventures of young Mike Ross, who is a genius but a complete fraud and SPOILER ALERT actually never went to Harvard or any other law school but suddenly finds himself employed as Harvey’s associate.

Harvey and Mike become a legal dynamic duo as they battle with billable hours, malleable legal ethics and generally the lonely lives of narcissist lawyers that are battling it out for supreme legal domination. All of this occurs in a funny and entertaining way of course.

However, like many legal dramas, I feel there is some gigantic leaps between the life of lawyers as portrayed on Suits and the every day life of a lawyer that I have experience.

Whilst viewing hours and hours of Suits, it has crossed my mind, that this maybe what people actually think I do at work and why has no one ever gifted me a $12,000 bottle of scotch and some Tiffany’s glassware as a starting gift, like Scotty got from Harvey? Maybe I should start expecting such gifts… Alas this is where Suits and the portrayal of lawyers is grossly misleading.

Here are my top 3 issues with how Suits portrays the life of lawyers:

1. Harvey Specter

Harvey Specter

The Best Closer in New York!

Well firstly, isn’t he dreamy. Secondly, Harvey is kind of a jerk, even if he is the best “closer in New York”.

That’s before you forgive Harvey for his unprofessional and sometime unethical behaviour due to the fact that he is an emotional complex and brilliant lawyer and is the king of inappropriate one-liners and legal speech including  “My advice is hold tight and enjoy the ride” the exact words you want to hear from your lawyer!

Harvey Specter

But really, Harvey’s behaviour as a lawyer is some what unrealistic and flies in the face of everything any graduate lawyer has even learnt about professional courtesy, legal ethics and general life lessons about how to be a decent human being in the workplace.

Harvey Specter

Harvey really smashes all these social/workplace boundaries in almost every episode. On that note, so does Louis Litt when telling opposing Counsel they just got “Litt up” in negotiations.

Louis Litt

Whilst Harvey and Louis are fictional character, perhaps a disclaimer should come with each episode just reminding viewers that if lawyers actually behaved this way, they would quickly be sued, unemployed or probably punched in the face.

2. A lack of any actual paperwork

Lawyers generate a lot of paperwork. I know it is terrible for the environment and I am all for using biodegradable paper and moving to an electronic legal world, however despite these efforts lawyers generate a lot, and I mean a lot of paperwork.

Rachel & Mike

Rachel & Mike…. backdrop of files!

Whether it is in the form of briefs, letters, emails, to do lists, mind maps, case plans, file notes or research. There is a lot of paperwork. In Suits, apart from a brief view of the file room or a pile of briefs for a really big case, paperwork is usually just the background scene or a content-helpful prop for some intimate moment or fight between Mike Ross and Rachel, or Jessica and Harvey or Louis and everybody…

So my real criticism is that there is a distinct lack of any paperwork or actual work being generated throughout the 4 seasons of Suits. It is unrealistic.

Harvey’s desk is always so neat and empty (except maybe for Donna).

Donna at Harvey's desk

Donna taking over Harvey’s desk

Where are the coffee stained draft letters, the disorganised stacks of important documents that your client thought may be useful, but failed to give you months ago, where is the endless stack of post-it notes on every empty desk surface?

Perhaps this contrast is illustrative of my office and working style and sure Rachel walks around with the odd file or Donna is standing at the photocopier for some unknown reason, but you never actually see the lawyers writing a letter or file note or surrounded by a mass of unfinished to do lists or draft letters.

So please, Suits writers start weaving in some actual legal work and paperwork into Season 5, I feel it would really add to a realistic portrayal of office life.

3. Looking like an A list celebrity at work

Jessica looking fabulous

Fearless Jessica looking so fabulous

Depending on where you work, the professional dress code differs from smart casual if you work in the legal community sector to high end designer suits if you work in a top tier commercial firm, however Suits seems to suggest that all lawyers dress like they have their own personal stylist, designer wardrobe and hair and makeup team every morning before they walk into the office. Yes yes, I know it is a HBO show and they are all beautiful people, but please let’s get realistic.

No actual functioning lawyer can wear 6 inch stilettos for over 8 hours a day, the pain in your feet actually reduces your intellectually ability to problem solve. Also where are the coat racks of emergency Court jackets, ties, robes and the pile of various shoes (ranging from stilettos, pumps, flats and slippers) under everyone’s desk??

Please don’t tell me it is just me that has such emergency items on standby in my office?

Also on this tangent, all the characters on Suits pull all nighters all the time when they are working on the most urgent big case. For someone who values sleep, I just don’t see these all nighters as necessary, however of course in reality they do happen.

Where Suits is misleading, is after pulling an all nighter everyone still looks put together, still with their suit jacket or heels on. This is grossly inaccurate. No one could actually keep their 6 inch stilettos on all day and all night. That’s crazy talk. Where is the messy hair, the crinkles in your shirt and walking around barefoot in a mad dash to the photocopier?

Rachel looking great after an all-nighter

Also there is a distinct lack of diet Coke, empty take away coffee cups and plastic takeaway containers littered across the lawyer’s desk after an all-nighter. Again grossly inaccurate.

Recommendation

If you haven’t already binge watched Suits, then set aside a weekend, or a couple of week nights when you don’t have Court at 9 am and sit back and enjoy, what legal life should be like according to Hollywood!

You may even pick up some dramatic negotiating skills and good one liners to use when talking to the other lawyers and therefore binge watching Suits may even be considered a broad approach to your continuing legal education.

Law Revue

by Madelaine Holt
no regerts

No Regerts

Following sold-out shows and rave reviews in 2013 and 2014, BottledSnail is back in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival with No Regerts: The 2015 Law Revue – featuring all new material and its trademark style of punchy and disarming sketch comedy.  This year’s show is creative, clever, and delivers non-stop belly laughs.

Although the cast and crew consists entirely of lawyers and law students, there are no law in-jokes to be found. Instead, the audience is treated to an underwater murder mystery, a housemate from hell, and a bunch of amateur ballerinas bustin’ a move. You will see how one small break in your career can have devastating consequences, and leave the night wondering if Jeep sponsored the show. The cast are an incredibly impressive group, including some familiar MICF faces (such as former Barry nominee, Rick Gunn) and some incredible new talent (Brett Taback channeling the Phantom of the Opera is one of the best things you’ll ever see. Ever.) Over the course of an hour, the versatile cast provide a slick succession of original, sharp-witted and thought provoking sketches.

We have BottledSnail to thank for putting together this incredible hour of sketch comedy for the third time. BottledSnail Productions is a volunteer-run, not for profit organisation that creates and supports high quality theatrical projects for Melbourne’s legal industry. You can see No Regerts at The Quilt Room, Trades Hall, on 26, 27 and 28 March and 2, 3 and 4 April 2015. Tickets are $20 to $25 and can be purchased from Ticketmaster or via http://www.bottledsnail.com.

Prepare to laugh. This show is exceptional.

99 Schnitzels

Part sketch, part musical comedy, 99 Schnitzels (Veal Ain’t One) is a one-man show bursting with vibrant and unforgettable characters.  In the space of an hour, Joshua Glanc effortlessly transforms into a crossing guard, a gibberish speaking stand-up comic, and a South American pop star.  His characters range from absurd to vulnerable and unpredictable, yet they are all consistently endearing. The result is a show bursting with music, silliness and moments of true pathos.

In his first solo MICF show, Joshua Glanc gives you everything you want – strange, superb, surreal and side-splittingly funny comedy. Glanc’s outrageous ideas coupled with his energetic performance creates a gem of a show that is truly unique to him and is not to be missed by you.

You can buy tickets to 99 Schnitzels through www.bottledsnail.com/portfolio/joshua-glanc/. The show runs from 25 March to 19 April and tickets are $15 to $20.

Hats off to you, Joshua Glanc. 99 Schnitzels is one hell of a show.

(Madelaine is a former cast member of the Law Revue who saw previews of No Regerts and 99 Schnitzels)

 

Gone Girl

By Arna Delle-Vergini

Gone Girl

GONE GIRL (2014, 149 mins)
DIRECTOR: DAVID FINCHER
ARNA’S RATING: 4/5

Loosely described, Gone Girl is a film about a wife who goes missing, a husband whose innocence is increasingly called into question, and a police investigation that is oh so right but which ultimately gets it oh so wrong. Like pregnancy, murder won’t save a bad marriage, but this film somehow does in fact manage to make murder seem like an agreeable option. Or, if not murder, at least death. And yet, for the accused husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), this is not terribly apparent at first. A good deal of the film is spent watching Nick trying to hopelessly worm his way out of the murder investigation. He doesn’t do a very good job. The film is narrated by missing wife, “Amazing Amy“ (Rosamund Pike). Her calm narrative, juxtaposed with Nick’s complete mismanagement of his own behavior whilst under investigation (his cheesy smile; his selfie with a local housewife, and his difficult to conceal for very long affair with one of his young students) leaves little doubt about Nick’s innocence.

Enter Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) – attorney extraordinaire. Tanner Bolt, said to be based on the famous Johnnie Cochran (O.J. Simpson’s Attorney) is known as the “Patron Saint of Wife Killers”. There is no such thing as an unwinnable case, providing you pay his $100,000 retainer. And you will. Because you don’t want to go down for killing your wife, particularly in Missouri where the death penalty applies.

Tanner Bolt’s role is limited in the movie but the part he does play is lawyer gold. He knows that image is everything – the details of the case can wait until later. He counsels Nick on how to make a plea to the American people via popular news shows using the unforgettable “gummy bear” method – whereby every time Nick comes across as smug or disingenuous in practice, Bolt gets to throw a gummy bear at his face. He attends the police interview with Nick and gives him the standard excellent legal advice pre-interview, (“give them nothing”), all of which Nick blithely ignores and yet he still manages to get him out on bail after his arrest – much to the chagrin of the Watchhouse officer: “Dunne, you’ve got one hell of a lawyer!”

 But what I really love about Tanner Bolt, is not his legal prowess but his humanism. When Nick gives his instructions to his lawyer – and they are weird as hell instructions – Bolt doesn’t bat an eyelid. It’s not his job to question his client, it’s his job to advocate for his client and he backs him, laughing all the way. Bolt – who deals with “fucked up people” doesn’t mind telling his client that as far as fucked up people go, Nick’s right up there. But all of this is done in good humour and with the confidence of an attorney who knows that after this alleged killer, there will be another and then another and then another. Same shit. Different smell. What remains the same is this lawyer’s unshakeable belief in the importance of his role and his ability to do it better than anyone else.

Lawyers are often treated negatively in film. This is not one of those films. As a lawyer you finish watching the film with a little inner glow you reserve for times when you feel you have made a difference or when you see other lawyers make a difference. It’s gold.

I’d give this movie 4 stars out of 5 for what it is.

Image from IMDB

From Zombie actress to barrister…”You can’t turn back the clock but you can wind it up again”

By Finchley Atticus

Whenever I review movies I sometimes wonder whatever happened to that particular actor who played such-and-such character, or the actress who played the damsel in the stress suffering at the hands of the villain. Especially if I’ve never heard of that performer before. Did they end up pursuing an acting career, or did they lead regular lives and move to the suburbs to raise a family? Or did they end up becoming say, a lawyer for instance?

Back in the late 90s I saw my first ever Zombie movie at the Australian National University film club. Despite Zombi 2 (aka Zombie)  being campy and predictable at times (what did I expect, a dramatic political thriller featuring zombies fighting contemplating the meaning of existentialism?), this Italian production had one incredibly gruesome zombie killer scene that really stuck in my mind. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but when I tell friends that it’s one of the most horrific scenes in cinematic history (okay, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic, but still), they scoff incredulously and insist I dare to describe the scene. Minutes later my friends are regretting I ever recounted the scene because it really is gruesome with a capital G. All I can say is it involves a zombie, one of the eyeballs of the hapless victim, and a small yet lethal splinter in a very painstaking yet very effective scene. I remember the audience at the film club collectively grossing and squeaming out. Just in case you’re wondering, the clip is on YouTube.

Zombi 2 was made in 1979 and I couldn’t help wonder whatever happened to the actress, Olga Karlatos, who played was in her early 30s when she played that victim in that most memorable scene. Did Olga end up continuing with her acting career or did she end up moving to the suburbs and lead a regular and fulfilling life? I’m pleased to say Olga, now approaching 70, led a remarkable life who pursued her passion for learning and career development. After her memorable turn in Zombie 2, Olga moved to Bermuda with her husband Arthur Rankin (no slouch himself in the entertainment industry – he was a movie mogul responsible for amongst other things, the stop motion animation Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer) and resumed her university studies to complete a bachelors and masters degree at New York University. Then after attending an information session at Bermuda College, Olga enrolled – with the encouragement of her husband –at the University of Kent Law School. It was a major period of adjustment for Olga, especially being the oldest student in her class, but she persevered with her desire to learn, matched with her enthusiasm and idealism. I wonder if Olga’s fellow students at Kent ever realised she was a movie actress in one of the most gruesome scenes in a zombie movie?

At the age of 65, Olga became the oldest person to be called to the Bermuda Bar – no mean feat that’s for sure. Olga’s outlook in her changing career path serves as an inspiration to all, young and old…”You can’t turn back the clock but you can wind it up again”.

Image: Rotten Tomatoes