Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey
Since the Tonys were just recently awarded, I decided that this month I would review an Oscar-winning musical comedy about the law and lawyers, based on a not-very-well-received Broadway musical. Chicago won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2002 and on screen it’s a singing and dancing extravaganza. But because of its phenomenally cynical view of the law and lawyers, I find it more than a little depressing, too.
The film centers on three characters: Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger), Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones) and their flamboyant lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere.) Roxie and Velma are aspiring entertainers, both are accused of murder, both are facing the death penalty – and both are guilty. It’s Flynn’s job to make sure that neither woman is convicted and he how does it makes up the core of the movie. Flynn uses flagrant pre-trial publicity, bombast, show biz tactics, sex, manufactured evidence and outright perjury dazzle.” All of this is done in a highly colorful, visually striking and richly entertaining way.
In addition to the three principal actors, the movie features a stellar supporting cast including Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly and Christine Baranski. Rob Marshall directed and the screenplay was by Bill Condon. Chicago’s direct ancestor was that Broadway play of the same name, but it also includes in its family tree two earlier Hollywood movies, Chicago (1927) and Roxie Hart (1942), which starred Ginger Rogers (but wasn’t a musical.) That 1927 film was based on a story by a Chicago crime reporter about two real murders that she’d covered.
Chicago was well-received by both audiences and critics. As noted, it won Best Picture in 2002. Zeta-Jones won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and there were also Oscars awarded for Best Art Direction, Costume Design, Film Editing and Sound Mixing. On top of that, Zellweger was nominated for Best Actress, Queen Latifah was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Reilly was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Marshall was nominated for Best Director, and there were additional nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. The movie made a pot-load of money worldwide for Miramax.
But for all the enjoyment I get watching Chicago, I still can’t help but feel uncomfortable about its take on the law and lawyers. Chicago plays to the worst aspects of the public’s distrust of lawyers and the legal system. There is no doubt that both Roxie and Velma are guilty and there is also no doubt that Flynn knows it. He will stoop to anything to win and it’s clear that winning is all that matters to him. A courtroom victory depends only on the entertainment value the lawyer and client can provide to the jury, portrayed as a bunch of idiots interested only in looking at Roxie’s legs.
At the start of her trial, Flynn explains all this to Roxie in the song that gave this review its title:
Give ’em the old Razzle Dazzle
Razzle dazzle ’em
Give ’em a show that’s so splendiferous
Row after row will grow vociferous
Give ’em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture ’em
How can they hear the truth above the roar?
Make sure to watch Chicago. I’m sure you’ll love it like I do. But as we laugh and sing along with Chicago, we need to remember that our goal as trial lawyers must always be to make sure everyone hears the truth above the roar.
Written by guest blogger and NITA SULC Public Service Program Director Jude D. Bourque
The recipes for all great gumbos have a few common steps. Gather the right variety of ingredients, pick your preference of proteins-seafood, sausage, chicken, prep the cooking, throw in your favorite spices, take time to let the gumbo simmer, gather fun people to enjoy the feast, serve it with a smile, and enjoy.
In May, Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge hosted a NITA Public Service Trial Skills Program for Legal Service attorneys in Louisiana. The new SULC Chancellor John Pierre working with NITA secured a program that taught 32 public service attorney and 16 SULC law students a dynamic trial skills program.
The NITA faculty included the Masters of NITA teaching: the legendary Peter Hoffman, the award winning Elizabeth “Beth” Sher, the dynamic Professor Stephanie Ledesma and Professor Jayme Cassidy, and the inspirational Debra Seaton-Chinaka. For the Professionalism/Ethics session, Judith Roberts inspired the group in an interview session about her journey to Hope Manor. The SULC Trial Advocacy professors and local attorneys including Greg Landry, Patricia Jones, and Karl Bernard, assisted in the teaching. The program emphasized the “learning by doing” philosophy by scheduling multiple sessions for each trial skill. NITA’s library of online lectures supplemented the creative and dynamic live instructions and demonstrations from the NITA faculty. The participants were performing almost the entire time to maximize their learning.
The best gumbos stick to the tried and true basics. Access to Justice. Promise fulfilled. Learning by doing. Award winning team assembled. Masters of NITA teachers. Cutting edge videos. Energy, skills, talent. A few side trips for seafood gumbo, grilled oysters, fried catfish, crawfish etouffee, pralines, boudin balls, and grilled fresh fish. Feeding the souls of our legal community.
When our colleague and friend J. C. Lore was honored this spring by Rutgers Law as its Professor of the Year for the second year in a row, the news came as no surprise in our quarters. (We chose J.C. as NITA’s Volunteer of the Year in 2011. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” as they say.) The announcement seemed like the perfect moment to put him through a round of “Asked and Answered”—which he somehow managed to make time for at the end of a busy school year, while writing a new book for NITA, teaching at a NITA program, and spending time with his wife and their five children. We don’t know how J. C. does it . . . but we’re awfully glad he does. Congratulations, J.C. We’re so glad to have you in our NITA family.
Why did you choose a profession in the law?
It sort of chose me. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do because I enjoyed learning about so many different subjects. I couldn’t imagine focusing on one subject and the law seemed to incorporate the many disciplines I enjoyed learning about—history, economics, political science, philosophy . . . . While in law school, I worked for Northwestern’s Bluhm Legal Center under the supervision of some inspiring clinical professors who also are wonderful NITA faculty, such as Angela Vigil and Tom Geraghty. They helped ignite a passion for fighting injustice and representing children.
If you hadn’t chosen the law, what career path do you think you might have taken instead?
It isn’t glamorous, but I have always dreamed of running a little seafood shack in some out-of-the-way location. I love to cook, and I love being near the water!
In your previous legal life, you were an assistant public defender in the Cook County Public Defender’s Office in Chicago and the Defender Association of Philadelphia. What drove your transition from practice to academia? Do you still handle cases on the side, and if so, what type?
While a student in the Bluhm Legal Center for two years and working there for a year after law school, I recognized the impact that teaching in a clinic could have on the individual client, the criminal justice system, and on the development of students. I couldn’t imagine a better trilogy of impact, which made my job exciting each and every day. I love the opportunity to prepare and sometimes inspire that next generation of trial lawyers. I wanted the experience of litigating numerous cases before making the transition to teaching, and that is exactly what I got as a public defender in Chicago and Philadelphia. Since taking over the Litigation and Trial Advocacy Program at Rutgers, I have taken a break from handling cases. It has been a big administrative commitment. However, I hope to start taking pro bono cases in the upcoming year and partnering with some of our local law firms to continue to improve our criminal justice system.
What was your first experience with NITA?
In 2004, I returned to Chicago and joined the Cook County Public Defender’s Office. When I returned, Tom Geraghty told me that I should start doing some NITA teaching and that Steve Lubet should have me teach in the Trial Advocacy Program at Northwestern. I can’t remember my original verbal response, but I know that I remember what I was thinking: Is he crazy? Fortunately, Tom isn’t crazy and has been one of the most supportive and inspiring people in my career. Steve and Tom have both been the best possible mentors, along with so many other wonderful NITA faculty. In 2004, my first NITA experience was when I taught in the Midwest Regional Program. I also began teaching as an adjunct professor at Northwestern, where we used NITA teaching materials, and I was able to further develop my teaching skills. After those experiences, I knew that I would make the transition to teaching at some point in the near future.
You’ve recently traveled to Ireland to teach at a NITA program. What is a country you’ve never been to but would most like to visit for fun, and why?
The Galapagos Islands. I guess that really isn’t a country, so my official answer needs to be Ecuador. I love the idea that so few people have traveled there and Ecuador has limited the impact of humans. Although it has become more of a tourist destination in recent years, it is still limited. Being near the water is always a priority when I travel. Additionally, learning more about the history of Charles Darwin, getting close to the wildlife, and the serenity and peacefulness of such an isolated place puts it at the top of my bucket list.
In what ways are you like your childhood self?
I still have trouble controlling my child-like excitement when good things happen, even when they are small things. I watch my nine-year-old child react with joy and excitement when anything good happens, and I feel like I acted the same way at her age and even at my current age of forty-two.
What is a skill you’d like to learn and why?
I would love to speak Spanish to be able to communicate better when I travel and in my community. I completed a five-week immersion program in Guatemala and when my wife joined me for the last week, her high school-level Spanish from almost ten years prior far exceeded my level of Spanish. It might be hopeless.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
Gray Mountain by John Grisham. Evidentiary Foundations by Edward Imwinkelried. Modern Trial Advocacy. A stack of kid’s books made up of books I get asked to read by one of my five children. They always seem to bring the long ones, so it is a pretty high stack.
If you were on death row (because your counsel wasn’t NITA trained, obviously), what you your final meal be?
Appetizer: A mix of Pemaquid Point oysters from Maine and cherrystone clams from Cape May (on the half shell). Main Course: Maine lobster, pole lima beans, and french fries. Dessert: Blueberry tea cake with vanilla ice cream (a dessert my great-grandmother made for me as a kid and I still ask for on my birthday).
What are you looking forward to?
Right now, it is summer vacation at the beach. It is long enough to unwind and relax. It is also about creating memories that my children and their cousins will have for a lifetime.
Enjoy this interview? Find more of our “Asked and Answered” interview posts with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.
In the latest edition of Advanced Negotiation and Mediation Theory and Practice, Paul Zwier and Thomas Guernsey present a strategic planning and integrated systematic approach to negotiation. This approach recognizes that both adversarial and problem-solving strategies have distinct advantages which lawyers will combine styles and strategies to achieve the best results for. Including an outlined plan to implement effective negotiation techniques using up-to-date situations, the authors break down the counseling process into stages and show readers what information the client needs to make an informed decision. In the second edition, readers will find updates include: new and expanded template for case evaluation, a new section on creative solutions, a new section on forgiveness, new ideas of integrating negotiation theory in mediation settings, expanded discussion on ethics, examples from products liability cases, and a new discussion of creative peacemaking from international conflicts.
Retail Price: $75
NITA’s newest program, DRILLS: A Witness Examination Boot Camp, is right around the corner and we are excited to add such a unique and fast-paced program to our lineup this year. Thank you to Marsha Hunter, who teaches our Articulate Advocate program, for posting about DRILLS on her blog. To read Marsha’s article, please click here. We appreciate the support and encouragement and look forward to the start of the program.