Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey
In December, I like to review a movie that features the law and Christmas, but after Miracle on 34th Street and Remember the Night, the pickings are pretty slim. So I started thinking about movies that feature family law, since my tenure as Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division of the Denver District Court is coming to a close soon. Then inspiration hit me: Bachelor Mother would cover both bases – and as a bonus, it’s from the best year for movies ever, 1939.
Ginger Rogers plays Polly Parrish, who’s working as temporary salesgirl during the Christmas season at Merlin’s Department Store in New York City. Laid off because the season is ending, Polly sees a young woman leave a baby on the front steps of what were then called “foundling homes” – places where abandoned children could be raised in safety. The young woman flees and Polly, afraid the child will roll down the steps, runs over the make sure the baby doesn’t. Of course, as she does this, the door of the home opens and the people inside decide Polly must be the mother, in spite of her protests to the contrary. When they find out she’s recently lost her job, they get in touch with David Merlin (David Niven) whose father, J.B. Merlin (Charles Coburn) owns the store. Polly goes back to work, and giving in to fate, starts to raise the child. Not surprisingly, David and Polly begin to care for one another. And J.B., who’s long wanted his playboy son to “settle down,” decides that David must be the baby’s father – and won’t take “no” for an answer. (In a terrific scene, David and Polly each suggest to J.B. that some other man is the baby’s father, to which J.B. exclaims; “I don’t care who the father is, I’m the grandfather!”) Since this a Hollywood movie made in 1939, you can guess how it all turns out.
Bachelor Mother was released by RKO and directed by Garson Kanin. It’s a surprisingly sympathetic treatment of some issues that had a different significance in 1939 (unwed motherhood) and some that we are still trying to figure out (child abandonment.) Throughout the movie, Polly is treated with sympathy and respect, and never condemned for (allegedly) having a baby “out of wedlock.” This is no longer the moral issue that it once was; indeed, in most states, domestic relations law takes for granted that an allocation of parental responsibility or custody can be made in cases where the parents were never spouses. But we still wrestle with what can be done with children abandoned by their parents. Although foundling homes are pretty much a thing of the past, many states now have “safe haven” laws that allow children to be left by their parents in a safe and secure place without legal consequence to the parents. And even J.B.’s line anticipates some modern concepts of family law, including such ideas as grandparents having visitation rights or even, in some circumstances, being allowed to battle birth parents for custody.
Bachelor Mother was nominated for one Oscar (Best Original Story) and features some first class actors. We tend to think of Ginger Rogers as Fred Astaire’s partner, but forget that she was an excellent actress, both in comedies and in dramas. Indeed, she would win a Best Actress Oscar in 1940 for her role in the drama Kitty Foyle. David Niven had a long and distinguished career, appearing in nearly one hundred films as diverse as Around the World in 80 Days and The Pink Panther. Niven would win an Oscar in 1958 for Separate Tables. Charles Coburn was no slouch, either. He was a constant supporting presence in movies from the ‘30’s through the ‘50’s, usually, but not always, in comedies. And Coburn, too was an Oscar winner: Best Supporting Actor in 1943 for The More the Merrier.
Bachelor Mother is an interesting take on some important issues in family law, presented in a comedic format. Sometimes laughing while we consider serious matters can help us understand them better. That’s a good reason to find and watch Bachelor Mother. I think you’ll enjoy it.
 As I write this review, that would be in 20 days, 11 hours, 57 minutes and 27 seconds, according to the timer I have on my phone – not that I’m counting or anything.
 No, I won’t bore you with another argument about why I think this is true.
 In Colorado, C.R.S. § 14-10-123
 Colorado’s “Safe Haven” statute can be found at C.R.S. § 18-6-401(9).
 In Colorado, C.R.S. § 19-1-117. And see, generally, Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), which deals with the constitutional rights of grandparents in custody cases, among other things.
 In Colorado, C.R.S. § 14-10-123(3).
 And in case you think this is just another example of me picking out some obscure old black-and-white film that no one’s ever seen, when I told my colleague, Judge Karen Brody that I was going to review Bachelor Mother she said: “Oh, I love that movie!” And Mark Caldwell has seen it, too – which I suppose is no surprise.
We wish to thank our friends at the Kansas Bar Foundation for awarding an $8,000 grant to NITA that will be used to hold a trial skills program next year for public service lawyers in Kansas. The services that governmental, nonprofit, and legal aid lawyers perform is essential democratic “bedrock” work, and NITA is honored to support these advocates again next fall with scholarships to attend trial skills training at no cost to them or their agencies.
Thanks to a grant award NITA received last year, we trained 24 lawyers at the 2016 Kansas Bar program in Topeka this past October. Here is a snapshot about the three-day program.
And while we at NITA express our gratitude to the Kansas Bar Foundation for its generosity, it is the attendees themselves whose words carry the most meaning.
Our deepest appreciation goes to the Kansas Bar Foundation for its scholarship support. We look forward to hosting another great program for Kansas public service lawyers in October 2017.
NITA’s latest case file, State v. Gray, is inspired by the timely discussions our nation is having about the use of force against unarmed civilians. Some questions the case file address include: What does the law say about police shooting an unarmed civilian? What is the appropriate response for officers to take when they believe they’re facing imminent mortal danger on the job?
State v. Gray is a fictionalized scenario which draws inspiration from real-life occurrences. This well-balanced case file will challenge the student’s advocacy and medical and forensic expert witness skills though this full trial.
Retail Price: $38
In this Holiday Season, my message is one of joy and thanks. Read both parts of this letter. First, the bullets of thanks. Second, the arrows for action.
First, my personal reflections in this season:
Second, the engine that unifies all of these efforts:
We are the NITA Network. Not an association, no members, no formal applications with criteria. Rather, an enthused network of individual lawyers who are jazzed by the vision of future courtrooms, where all lawyers at the bar (or in any forum) perform advocacy effectively, efficiently, and ethically.
How do we succeed in keeping this network success going today in our 45th year, and forward through the next 45?
Our Staff!! You will read about them in my first few posts of 2017. You know that our NITA Network hits its mark because we the lawyers are good. And we are prepared. Who prepares and assures that we look good? Well, we hit our marks, build our programs, and sustain our energy thanks to our staff. They are thrilled with NITA’s mission. They are overjoyed when they connect with each of you. And they rejoice in each victory of a good program well-planned and beautifully taught. In a well-planned publication or studio performance, beautifully presented and timely. In the union of donors who energize our public service mission.
We don’t thank them enough – we can’t! I myself can’t do it enough either, and I reside here with many of them.
So please do two things for me, starting early and throughout 2017:
→ Thank every staff member at every contact moment you have, personally and as a colleague.
→ Read about each of our staff members in my next few posts beginning January 19. I will introduce to each staff member as a person, and each NITA department. You will learn how they accomplish the magic together. Hint – it is teaming with you.
Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! I extend my wishes to each of you for a reverent and joyful Holiday of your own following. Thank you to all of you, our individual and diverse friends.
Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President and Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy
Author Melissa M. Gomez recently had a chance to talk about Jury Trials Outside In, her book published this year by NITA, when she was interviewed by the Advocacy & Evidence Blog at Temple University Beasley School of Law.
Jules Epstein is a Professor of Law, Director of Advocacy Programs, and blogger at Temple. His many years of criminal law practice made him skeptical of the value most jury consultants bring to trials—and then he read Jury Trials Outside In.
He spoke with Dr. Gomez about her view that psychology makes all the difference in seating a jury. She said:
As a psychologist, I work with lawyers on the educational, social and emotional issues involved in the litigation. There is learning involved in trials. There are interpersonal interactions involved in trials. There is stress involved in trials. This is all because there are people involved in trials.
Lawyers spend years learning about the law. I help them understand that, while the law needs to be the basis of the trial for the court and the record, the psychology of the people is what creates the story.
Click here to read the full interview.
NITA shares a deep history with Temple, as many of our past and present faculty and authors have been based at Beasley School of Law, including David Sonenshein, Tony Bocchino, JoAnne Epps, Sara Jacobson, Ken Jacobson—and even Mr. Epstein himself. Our thanks go to Mr. Epstein for his ongoing interest in NITA and Dr. Gomez’s work.
Purchase Jury Trials Outside In here.