And Justice For None

By Judy Berman

Courtroom dramas. Noble attorneys, jurors who stick to their convictions despite the opposition of their peers, courtrooms that are just out of control, and justice as an elusive end product.

As a reporter, I covered quite a few trials. Some of the verdicts took me by surprise, as did some of the tactics used to sway a jury. Few of them, however, quite measured up to Hollywood’s portrayals of the legal system.

So, I began to wonder what would be the odds for me if my fate rested on a Hollywood lawyer or jury? Here are a few possibilities:

  • This year marks the 50th anniversary of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. He’s an honest man assigned to a case he’s doomed to lose – even though his client is innocent.

Several characters, who are innocents, take a hit in this drama. They were destroyed or injured by evil: Tom Robinson (played by Brock Peters), a black fieldhand, accused of raping a white woman, is unable to get a fair trial. Boo Radley (Robert Duval), a recluse who lives near Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother, Jem’s, home, was the victim of emotional abuse by his father. Jem’s (Philip Alford) innocence also is shattered by what he witnesses at Robinson’s trial.

Chances of winning at trial: 2 (Slim and None)

  • 12 Angry Men, (1957), starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley and E. G. Marshall.

In a line from the movie trailer, “On the point of that knife, a man’s life is at stake.”

When the jury began its deliberations, it looked like an open-and-shut case of murder. Then, the baggage that many people carry around with them – prejudice and preconceived notions – begins to shape the outcome.

Chances of winning: Excellent, if Henry Fonda is on the deliberating panel.

  • Runaway Jury (2003), starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz.

“Trials are too important to be left up to juries,” said Gene Hackman (as Rankin Fitch, a jury consultant), as he schemes to rig the trial’s outcome through bribes and blackmail.

A failed day trader guns down former co-workers at a stock brokerage firm. Attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) takes the weapon’s manufacturer to court on the grounds of gross negligence.

Thru blackmail and bribery, Fitch tries to handpick a jury that will appeal to the gun lobby. On the inside, however, juror Nicholas Easter (played by John Cusack) is working with his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz), who is on the outside, to score a win.

Chances of winning: Well, to be bribed or blackmailed, you have to have a life. As I have neither, the outcome is up in the air.

  • And Justice For All, (1979), starring Al Pacino, Jack Warden and John Forsythe.

An ethical lawyer (Al Pacino as Arthur Kirkland) is forced to defend a corrupt judge (John Forsythe as Judge Henry T. Fleming) in a rape trial. This same judge wrongly sentenced Pacino’s client, who was innocent, on a technicality. Pacino had thrown a punch at the judge, and might be disbarred unless he takes on this case, even though he knows the judge is guilty.

Chances of winning: I’d throw myself on the mercy of the court, rather than get involved in this quagmire.

I rest my case. Hollywood ending: 4. Justice: None.

What was your favorite courtroom drama on film?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo of Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) and Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) in To Kill A Mockingbird

Movie trailer for To Kill A Mockingbird

Movie trailer for 12 Angry Men

Movie trailer for Runaway Jury

Movie trailer for And Justice For All

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  1. Other courtroom dramas that come to mind are “The Verdict,” with Paul Newman, and “Witness for the Prosecution.”

    And let’s not forget “Anatomy of a Murder,” with a cast that included James Stewart, George C. Scott as the prosecutor, Lee Remick, Eve Arden and the late Ben Gazzara. It was directed by Otto Preminger and was quite “adult” for its time. I especially remember the scene in which the judge mentions to the courtroom that the case will involve something called “panties,” and he advises the spectators to get their nervous laughter out of the way now and proceed. The judge, by the way, was played by Joseph Welch, who was not an actor but was the head counsel for the Army when Sen. Joe McCarthy investigated it. It was Welch who uttered these famous words to McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

    Although Welch’s appearance in the movie was an early example of what’s now called “stunt casting,” he seemed to pull it off pretty well.

    1. Excellent sidebar observations, Mark. I loved all of those films and I didn’t know about the “stunt casting.”
      On the subject of juries, a quote from “Anatomy of a Murder:” “Twelve people go off into a room. Twelve different minds … and these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind. Unanimous. I swear, the miracle is of man’s disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.” Arthur O’Connell (played by Parnell McCarthy)

  2. I think you would have a strong case towards the insanity defense myself. But that doesn’t say much since we are related. Good points though and definately a scary thought.

    1. Jenn, to quote a movie you’re all too familiar with: “Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.” (Arsenic and Old Lace,” Cary Grant (as Mortimer Brewster) to Priscilla Lane (as Elaine Harper). Yes, I suppose that could be my fallback position. 😉 Thank you for your comments.

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