Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sometimes the abuse goes in the other direction.

"I suggest to you with respect, Your Honor, that you're a few French fries short of a Happy Meal..."

--BigLaw firm partner to a federal judge in court. No joke. And the judge didn't laugh either.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Not the first time a lawyer was told to shut up.

From time to time, I like to post litigation stories that I witness first-hand. Fortunately, I didn't experience this upbraiding from a judicial officer:

"Judge Mullen: Naked shorts are not legal, are they?
SEC lawyer Amy Greer: No. No, they’re just very risky, Your Honor.
SEC lawyer Catherine Pappas: And Your Honor –
Judge Mullen: They’re not illegal; they’re just risky.
Greer: Correct. Naked short sales are not illegal; they’re just risky, Your Honor.
Judge Mullen: Why in the world don’t you all make them illegal? Don’t you understand what happens in the market when you allow naked short selling to attack companies? I mean, do you understand that?
Greer: Your Honor, I think that that’s an issue for the United States Congress. I appreciate your concern –
Judge Mullen: Well –
Greer: — and I –
Judge Mullen: — the answer to my question is, yeah, I understand it or, no, I don’t.
Greer: I do understand your –
Judge Mullen: Do not try — okay.
Greer: I do understand, Your Honor.
Judge Mullen: Thank you for understanding it.
Covington: Your Honor, one thing –
Judge Mullen: Excuse the interruption.
Covington: No, sir.
Judge Mullen: Sit down, shut up, let the man talk. I’m not going to let him introduce (sic) you. Last warning.
Pappas: I’m sorry?
Judge Mullen: Sit down –
Pappas: Yeah, I got that.
Judge Mullen: — shut up, let the man talk. Last warning.
Pappas: Okay.
Judge Mullen: Understood?
Pappas: Okay.
Judge Mullen: Excellent.
Covington: With all due respect, Your Honor –
Judge: And you don’t interrupt her when she’s talking.
Covington: Yes, sir.
Judge: Proceed." (emphasis supplied.)


Friday, October 26, 2007

Movie Review: Into the Wild.

If you go to a movie theater early enough, you will see a blank screen. After some time, however, images will appear on that screen projected by someone else. While you can interpret the images and messages flashing on the screen, you cannot alter them (absent throwing paint) or even project your own images onto the screen (absent using your own projector).

Immortalized by Jon Krakauer's superb book, Into the Wild, Christopher McCandless has become much like a blank screen for people to project their own portraits of him. To many, McCandless was a hero who rejected society's conventions (e.g., he donated his law school tuition fund) and lived simply in nature much like the Transcendentalists before him, such as Thoreau and Emerson. To others, McCandless was a self-absorbed hermit who pained his family through his selfish aloofness.

Sean Penn's filmic adaptation of Into the Wild manages to marry both images. On the one hand, the movie celebrates McCandless' free-spiritness. You can almost feel the filmmakers' desire to hop into McCandless' kayak as he (illegally) floated down the Colorado River to Mexico. On the other hand, the movie constantly reminds the viewer what anguish he put his parents (well played by William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) through as he tramped across North America for two years without bothering to tell them what he was doing.

In tying these themes or dimensions of McCandless together, Penn deviates somewhat from the book. The film makes McCandless more relational than I remember Krakauer's textual portrayal. In the movie, characters are invented for dramatic purposes that project McCandless' uncanny ability to connect with humanity. In Penn's work, McCandless dispenses wisdom beyond his years like an enlightened guru.

More than I can remember in recent years, this movie's soundtrack was special. Eddie Vedder penned and performed songs for the movie that managed to capture perfectly its aesthetic and to advance it. Unlike some movies where the soundtrack intrudes, these musical interludes were welcome atmospheric augmentations.

In the tragedy of McCandless' lonely demise, his powerful epiphany that "joy must be shared" will resonate long after leaving the movie theater.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Movie Review: Michael Clayton.

When an attorney friend learned that I saw Michael Clayton he asked if it was another lawyer-bashing movie. I laughed because it is and it isn't. In short, it's like a lawyer's answer where both "yes" and "no" may credibly pass for truth.

On the one hand, an attorney (Tom Wilkinson's character) is presented as a hero protecting injured victims of corporate greed. He uncovers a damaging research memo and toils to help plaintiffs win with it.

On the other hand, the same attorney obliterates conventional attorney ethics because he was the lead counsel for the defendant corporation. Also, he was a paranoid schizophrenic who "came to his senses" only after he came off his meds. This attorney, considered a courtroom wizard, equates attorneys (primarily himself) with "janitors" who clean up after others.

George Clooney plays another attorney struggling with his own ethics and motivations in this ethical morass. Clooney's character, Michael Clayton, works in the same law firm as Wilkinson's character. Clooney is known as the firm's "fixer," who is directed to control the damage (to the firm mostly) wrecked by Wilkinson's "epiphany." Instead of fixing others, Clooney's character fixes his own ethics in the process.

As the characters work out this morality play, the viewer is treated with respect. Michael Clayton unfurls a nonlinear story with many ambiguities and serious themes. As someone else said about the film, "Hire a babysitter, it's adult time at the cinema again."

Those born before the 80s can be thankful for that.

Michael Clayton receives an A-.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Monument to the Unethical.

As I breezed through the courthouse lobby today, I studied the new bronze statue that regales the space.

I realized it celebrates unethical behavior.

Three images appear: one judge--as evidenced by the robe; one attorney--as evidenced by the briefcase; and one client--as evidenced by the casual sartorial display.

A missing image--the opposing party (or his/her/its counsel).

Except in John Grisham novels, lawyer and judicial ethics generally prohibit such "ex parte" communications where only one side of the case gets to advocate its cause without anyone else present. (Cal. Rule of Professional Conduct 5-300(B); Cal. Judicial Canon 3(B)(7).) It's thought to undermine the "adversarial" principle of our legal system.

I guess the sculptor didn't get the memo.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Britney Spears and Me.

As I arrived at the downtown LA courthouse last week, I encountered a phalanx of reporters, television trucks, photographers, and people carrying placards with political messages scrawled on them. Even a helicopter swirled above.

I thought it was a bit much coverage for a status conference on my client’s real estate case, so I asked a court staff member what all the commotion was about. He said,

“Ms. Britney Spears.”

Apparently she sought an emergency modification to her child custody arrangement. Generally these are known as “ex parte applications.” They require notice to be provided to the opposing party by 10 a.m. the court day before.

So I speculated the press probably didn’t hear about this matter until perhaps the afternoon before the 8:30 hearing. It amazed me how efficient the media is in mobilizing for a story involving a celebrity.

“Ms. Britney Spears” didn’t show anyway, as she didn’t have to. So the unlikely prospect of her appearance causes the media to accomplish logistical feats that would make military commanders mist up.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Is This Graded?

This morning in the courtyard next to the courthouse I observed a sign reading:

"Human Trafficking Class--Downstairs."

Is this a how-to course?

I didn't want to see the students in the class.