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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey


In recent reviews, I’ve mentioned that Hollywood uses domestic relations issues not just as subjects for drama, but also for comedy.  This month we’ll look at three movies about divorce that took the comedy concept one step further – they’re all musical comedies in which divorce plays a central part.

The_Gay_Divorcee_movie_posterWe’ll start with The Gay Divorcee,[1] a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie from 1934.[2] The movie is fun to watch, although obviously dated.  Its central theme flows out of old-style divorce law.  Many of us remember the days before no-fault divorce, when the party seeking the divorce had to have “grounds” to get one. The most common ground was “infidelity” or “adultery.”  Even parties who were willing to divorce amicably had to have grounds, which led to phony set-ups with hired “co-respondents.”  One party or the other was “discovered” with another man or woman, photographs were taken and the judge had the grounds necessary to grant a divorce.  There was very often no real hanky-panky going on, just a sham so an unhappy couple could move on with their lives.

That’s the starting point for The Gay Divorcee.  Rogers plays Mimi Glossop, who’s been separated from her husband Cyril for years.  She goes to England at the suggestion of her aunt (Alice Brady) and the aunt’s incompetent lawyer (Everett Edward Horton.) The lawyer has set it up for Mimi to be caught in a hotel room with one of those professional co-respondents. Unfortunately, the lawyer forgets to hire the necessary private detectives with the necessary camera.

Astaire plays Guy Holden, an American dancer (shocker!) who’s a friend of the lawyer.  He’d met Mimi before and of course fell madly in love with her.  He ends up at the same hotel, Mimi mistakes him for the hired co-respondent, Mimi’s estranged husband show up, the lawyer’s butler (Eric Blore) engages in shenanigans, Fred and Ginger dance and sing, and everything comes out fine at the end.

The Gay Divorcee was based on a Broadway play called the The Gay Divorce.  Hollywood’s censor, the Hayes Office, made the film’s producers change the name, apparently because while the people going through a divorce could individually enjoy themselves, there was nothing humorous or fun about the process.  The Broadway show had music by Cole Porter, all of which was replaced in the movie by other music, with the exception of the classic “Night and Day.”One of those new songs, “The Continental” won an Oscar for Best Original Song, and was used in a twenty-minute dance sequence at the end of the movie. The movie itself was nominated for Best Picture, but lost (deservedly) to It Happened One Night, starring Clark Gable (sans undershirt) and Claudette Colbert.

kissMeKateNext we’ll turn to 1953’s Kiss Me Kate, produced by MGM and starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson as a pair of divorced Broadway stars, Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi. Fred wants Lilli back, but she isn’t anywhere near to that, at least initially.  Fred gets her to co-star with him in a Broadway musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, where their individual personalities fir the roles of Patricio and Katherine.  (Believe me, this works out MUCH better than it sounds!)  This film is a big-time color movie musical, with terrific songs by Cole Porter and large scale production numbers that were the hallmark of MGM musicals of the time. This movie was, too, was based on a Broadway musical of the same name, making it a movie musical based on a Broadway musical about the production of a Boradway musical.  Got that?

There are four really good reasons to watch this movie.  The first is Cole Porter’s music, with its clever lyrics, snappy wordplay and more than occasional double meanings.  Some of those were cleaned up for the movie, but others weren’t.  Second, you get to watch the best female tap dancer in the movies, Ann Miller, do her stuff.[3] She has several featured dances, and will blow you away with the speed and execution of what she does.  Watch her go from floor to table to room divider and back in “Too Darn Hot.” Third, you get to watch two great character actors, Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, portray two gangsters who get involved with the cast of the play in the center of the movie. They perform an hilarious number, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” one of the songs that was considerably cleaned up between Boradway and Hollywood; it’s still funny. You also get to see that many of the actors of that era could hoof like pros.  Finally, this movie is one of the earliest big-studio films shot in 3-D.  Most prints now don’t reflect that, but you can always tell when a 3-D effect was in play: someone is throwing something directly at the audience (a mug, a scarf, a banana, confetti) or cracking a whip, or pointing, etc.

highSocietyFinally, I present for your consideration 1956’s High Society, with a truly All-star Cast including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly and Louis Armstrong.  (And Cole Porter wrote the music for this movie, too!) I won’t summarize the plot for you, because you know it already: this is a MGM Technicolor musical version of The Philadelphia Story, which I reviewed several months back.  It isn’t nearly as good, but it’s still worth watching, to hear Crosby and Sinatra sing Porter’s music, to hear Armstrong play and to watch Kelly in her only musical role and in her last movie before she became Princess Grace of Monaco.  The highlight of the movie is the first and only Crosby/Sinatra collaboration, in a song called “Well, Did You Evah!” in which each singer makes obvious references to the singing style of the other that the audience would have immediately caught.  It’s great fun watching them go back and forth – and hearing two of the great voices in the history of American popular music combine.

You can find all of these movies in various formats, particularly on TCM.  The Gay Divorcee and High Society can be rented on Amazon.  If you like singing and dancing, you’ll love these movies.  Even if that’s not your first movie watching priority, give these three a try.  You’ll enjoy them, I promise!


[1] The title meant something different in 1934 than it would today.

[2] I am a huge Fred Astaire fan.  I think he’s Hollywood’s premier dancer, hands down. I will be happy to debate this with fans of Gene Kelly over a beverage.

[3] Miller could give even Astaire a run for his money.

Remembering Donald H. Green, NITA Teacher extraordinaire

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Green-DonaldThe NITA community is saddened as we continue to absorb the sudden passing of Donald H. Green on Saturday, April 4, 2015.  Don was a NITA Program Director for many years and co-founded the NITA Deposition Program in DC.  Along his strong leadership in the Deposition Skills Program and the Expert Witness Program, Don served expertly on the faculty of the Trial Skills Program and in the Advanced Trial Skills Programs in D.C.  Don was a firm partner for over 20 years after he served 30 years of service in the Marine Corps and retired as litigation of-counsel in the D.C. office of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

Don’s expertise and dedication to teaching will be greatly missed.  We are honored to celebrate and reflect on his life, career and friendship.  An outpouring of remembrances were shared from his NITA faculty team who cared for him so dearly.

“I had the pleasure of teaching with Don at NITA for several years.  Don as always a consummate gentleman, old school and very talented.  When I hear news like this, all I can think of is how much knowledge we have lost as a community, and how fortunate we were and are to be able to say that we learned just a little bit from him.”

-Thomas J. Powell, The Law Offices of Thomas J. Powell

“I speak for hundreds of lawyers when I say that I would not be the lawyer I am today without the mentoring and example of Don Green.   He set a high standard for all of us in the teaching of advocacy.  His gentle, but highly effective, mastery of the NITA method of feedback and teaching was truly exemplary. 

He will be missed, but I think that the best way to remember him is to maintain and build on the excellence that he brought to teaching.”

-Peregrine D. Russell-Hunter, Defense Office of Hearings & Appeals

“In addition to being a wonderful attorney and teacher, he was the consummate, classy gentleman. Whenever he observed and critiqued a group I was working with, I learned at least as much from him as did the students.  It was a pleasure to work with him these past years. He was a true professional.”

-Rosalind T. Kaplan, Jarve Kaplan Granato LLC

“There is a cadre of Don Green fans where I work. The world is diminished by his passing. He will never be forgotten.”

-Philip J. Katauskas, Defense Office of Hearings & Appeals

“Dan was a wonderful and generous teacher. He was a great mentor to many younger lawyers. He was a great lawyer of the highest integrity, but most of all, he was a great man. He will be sorely missed.”

-Daniel E. Toomey, Duane Morris 

“He was a whole person, a rarity. How powerful he was in these traits: authenticity, self-awareness, and comfort in his own skin.  He knew that true happiness results not from receiving but from giving, and he gave all the time — to colleagues, to the family he was so humbly devoted to, to the next generation and through NITA, the generations after that.”

-Lawrence Jay Center, Georgetown University Law School

Don’s family wrote a beautiful piece celebrating his productive and interesting life.  To view this In Memoriam, please click here.  A short obituary was also published about Green in the Washington Post, to read click here.

To honor Don’s memory, The NITA Foundation invites you to make a gift in his honor.  If you wish to make a donation in his name please click here and note Don’s name in the comment section.  To establish a larger Memorial Fund, please call 303.953.6845 with interest.

Don will be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery beside his wife on a hill overlooking the Potomac River.  We will share details of the date and details of his Memorial service once they are set.

Don is missed by all in the NITA community.

Impact on Juries in Sports Celebrity Cases

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steinhauser_karenWritten by guest blogger Karen Steinhauser, trial lawyer and owner of The Law Office of Karen Steinhauser LLC, which focuses primarily in the area of criminal defense and family law.

Why is the public so fascinated with celebrity sports trials?  Throughout the years, we have followed the trials of O.J. Simpson, the almost trial of Kobe Bryant, and the trial of Aaron Hernandez. If we the public are so fascinated by it, the question always comes to my mind of whether a defendant’s celebrity status affects jurors, either consciously or unconsciously. In other words, does the celebrity status make the burden of proof higher for prosecutors, or do jurors hold the celebrities to a higher standard than they would a non-celebrity sports figure?

I don’t believe that juror bias towards Simpson resulted in a not guilty verdict. I believe it had to do jury selection and mistakes by the prosecutors.

With the Kobe Bryant case, the issues centered more around the type of case it was than any bias for or against Kobe Bryant.

With the Aaron Hernandez case, it appeared that jurors looked at this case as with any other homicide.

So regardless of whether we have learned anything specific, what we do know is that there is more likely to be a lot of publicity in these types of cases that can impact jurors and witnesses, thereby affecting the outcome of the trial. It is particularly important in jury selection to address the issue of juror bias for or against these athletes during the jury selection process. It is important to remember that the bias that people have when it comes to athletes may not necessarily be one in an athlete’s favor for any number of reasons, including a perception of the athlete making too much money or coming across as too entitled.

Jury questionnaires should be a must when the defendant is a sports figure, including open-ended questions asking whether the particular juror is familiar with the individual and what his feelings are about that person, before and after he became aware of the charges involved. These questions should include whether the juror has ever gone to a game where the defendant was playing, watched it on TV, owns jerseys or other items with the person’s name on it, or has received an autograph from that individual.

On the other hand, to ensure a fair trial for the defendant, it may also be important to include on the questionnaire questions about how the juror feels about sports in general, or this particular sport or athletes, ensuring that jurors don’t end up on the jury who have biases against the sports celebrity defendant.

Besides the questionnaires, it is important during the voir dire process to pay attention to which jurors seems to be spending too much time staring at the defendant as opposed to being involved in the voir dire process. This also may seem to signal a bias either for or against the defendant.

Unfortunately, chances are that we will continue to see sports celebrity figures end up in the criminal justice system because celebrity status certainly doesn’t make someone immune from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, making bad choices, or being targeted for a crime he didn’t commit.

April 2015 Executive Director’s Letter: Clarity of Purpose

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Lockwood_KarenIn “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder introduces us to the aspiring new doctor who grew up in a family that lives in a bus and on a ramshackle boat. The family could afford that residential style, and played and worked with a somewhat bizarre optimism. They firmly believed the reality that their lives were meaningful and normal enough. Paul Farmer goes on to use his instinct to excel by pointing it toward Haiti. The story is now paused at the election of Aristide following the fall of Papa and Baby Doc, Farmer, a PhD anthropologist and top MD grad of Harvard, has already built a center of medical help and community in the heights of Haiti’s central plateau. He and two others had founded Partners in Health to raise private funds for this effort.

I clipped this line to share with you. They talked late into the nights.

Some things were plenty black and white, they told each other — “areas of moral clarity,” which they called AMC’s. These were situations, rare in the world, where what ought to be done seemed perfectly clear. But the doing was always complicated, always difficult. They often talked about those difficulties. How Paul and Jim should balance work for PIH with going to school and getting their degrees.

I feel their pain, NITA has great AMC’s to combine.  Doing them at once seems complicated. Choices must be made. Resources must be increased. Yet our purpose must always remain clear.

It is perfectly clear to us that every client in civil and criminal arenas alike needs and deserves highly skilled advocates; the company faced by unfair competition needs a lawyer always ready to go to court; the accused need excellent defenders and fair accomplished prosecutors, the individual and family know skilled advocacy when they see it. It is obvious that an economy of skewed incentives and uneven access to capital makes a more polarized continuum between those who have and those who need help to find a civil lawyer. It is a truism that justice if enabled stabilizes new governments and nations under stress. Law students and professors need us as much as ever, in the most relevant ways. Corporate law departments have a huge voice in demanding and partnering to create better advocates.

NITA, founded on the vision of advancing excellent advocacy throughout the nation’s courts and hearing rooms, has the responsibility to flex and grow to aim clearly for our purpose. We watch carefully the systemic changes in legal education, private practice, constitutional and statutory assurances of fairness in the criminal law realm, and global political conflict and violence.

Everywhere, lawyers remain assets for the voiceless. Courage feeding fair and balanced governments. Talent for holding steady the prism of fairness through which conflict resolution systems must be seen. (Call me if examples of this truth do not immediately come to mind — Egypt, Selma, Kosovo, Ferguson, Death Row ….)

As we seek to bring NITA learning to the best productive mix of these lawyer sectors in the US and outside its borders, we constantly balance. We measure who we reach. We know all lawyers trained in our public and custom programs must will bring their best trial skills to serve their clients. They will advance their skills for a lifetime with NITA-confidence. They will have wide influence throughout their careers, and will move among practice sectors. We know those who are in public service need training now. We understand the imperative of training for criminal advocates on both sides. We seek relationships with organizations having nuanced understanding of nations engaged in reforms, because they can help NITA target, aim, and provide intensely relevant advocacy training in key global regions.

Our purpose is clear. Our choices are many. We need you, all of you and your friends. Know that our work is motivated by this clarity of purpose, focused yet broad in potential.




Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President and Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy

NITA Movie Review: “Why, that’s bigamy!” “Yes, and it’s big of me, too!”

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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey

“Why, that’s bigamy!” “Yes, and it’s big of me, too!”[1]

myFavoritWife§ 18-6-201. Bigamy
(1) Any married person who, while still married, marries
or cohabits in this state with another commits bigamy,
unless as an affirmative defense it appears that at the time
of the cohabitation or subsequent marriage
(a) The accused reasonably believed the prior spouse to be dead; or
(b) The prior spouse had been continually absent for a period of five years during which time the accused did not know the prior spouse to be alive; or
(c) The accused reasonably believed that he was legally
eligible to remarry.

(2) Bigamy is a class 6 felony.

Know anyone who might fit into that definition? I’ll bet you do. That’s a still-viable, still-enforceable Colorado statute, although you’d probably have to have a pretty aggravated case before a DA would try to enforce it. Our ideas about marriage and cohabitation (living together as spouses although not legally married) have softened and mellowed over time. But those issues have always been grist for the Hollywood mill. And what came out of the Hollywood mill when bigamy was the issue was almost always a comedy.

The premier example of this is My Favorite Wife (1940), from RKO. It starred Cary Grant, Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. Directed by Garson Kanin, it was nominated for three Oscars, although it didn’t win any. The movie was a huge hit and when you watch it, you’ll see why.

Grant plays a lawyer, Nick Arden, whose wife Ellen (Dunne) has been missing after the ship she was one disappeared. In the interim, Nick has fallen in love with Bianca (Gail Patrick.) They want to marry, so Nick goes to court and has Ellen declared legally dead. The judge enters the order, Nick and Bianca marry, and leave on their honeymoon. (You can see this one coming from a mile off, can’t you?) Ellen returns, finds out about Nick’s marriage and locates him on his honeymoon night – and before anything honeymoonish happens between Nick and Bianca. Now Nick has to figure out how to discuss the situation with Bianca, but he just keeps putting off both an explanation and the consummation of their marriage. But it’s even more complicated than that. It turns out that Ellen has been shipwrecked on a tropical island with Stephen Burkett (Scott) and while there they referred to each other as “Adam” and “Eve.” Nick, now jealous, has to find out what – if anything — happened on the island. (One reason this screwball plot worked was that Randolph Scott was one of the few stars who was regarded as being as handsome as Cary Grant.)[2] Hilarity ensues, but it all works out in the end.[3]

From a legal perspective, this sounds a lot like a question on the Bar Examination. The movie uses the legal conundrums of the situation to give some wonderful scenes with the befuddled Judge Bryson who first declares Ellen to be legally dead, then has to deal with the aftermath of her not being dead, legally or otherwise. This poor black-robed nebbish is played by Granville Bates, and he’s one of my favorite screen jurists.

I know that some of the social issues that form the plotlines of movies from the ‘30’s and ‘40’s seem more than a little archaic to modern sensibilities. But folks, funny is still funny. And My Favorite Wife is very, very funny. Find it and enjoy it!


[1] This quote is not from this month’s movie. It’s from Animal Crackers (1930), a Marx Brothers movie. I used it for several reasons: it fits the subject matter of this month’s movie; I absolutely love the Marx Brothers; and mostly because it’s funny!

[2] Scott worked in many different genres, but is most remembered as a rugged star of Westerns. He and Grant were very good friends, at one time sharing a beach house.

[3] Stuff like this can make real-life cases difficult, too. I had a hearing recently where an earlier marriage and divorce for husband came to light while testimony was being taken. The parties to the case knew all about it – but husband sort of forgot to tell his lawyer. Hilarity did not ensue.

NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system. NITA's Goals are to:
  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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