What is Justice? John Rawls, a noted Harvard philosopher, described Justice as Fairness.
Movie Law School
Paul Newman was a down-and-out lawyer fighting professional lying in the 1982 medical malpractice film, The Verdict. John Travolta portrayed the real life story of Jan Schlictmann fighting corporate misdeeds, corporate pollution and corporate greed in the 1996 film, A Civil Action. George Clooney exposes the wanton, murderous misdeeds of corporate lawyers in the more recent 2007 film, Michael Clayton. Are they trying to tell us something? Are we listening?
The Verdict -- In the movie, the doctor falsified medical records in order to cover-up his medical malpractice. Then he suborned to perjury a nurse which ruined her life. In real life, we requested the medical records from Kaiser to determine when they should have discovered and diagnosed Crohn’s disease, a horrible intestinal disease. The records we got did not match the memory of the client as to the dates of her visit to Kaiser. To be on the safe side, we sent a nurse to physically examine the records on site. She found the missing record which disclosed a visit much earlier than the records initially provided and exposed the failure to diagnose. An early diagnosis could have prevented her from having to wear a bag, traumatic at any age, but particularly so for this young, unmarried woman in her 20’s.
Paul Newman as Frank Galvin, the lawyer in The Verdict, summed it up this way: 'You know, so much of the time we're just lost. We say, "Please, God, tell us what is right; tell us what is true." And there is no justice: the rich win, the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time, we become dead...'
A Civil Action -- In the movie, John Travolta portrays a real life plaintiff’s attorney who takes on a local business polluter. He eventually gets a settlement at the cost of his practice. A real life local case disclosed a small business polluter-entrepreneur which was partially financed by the state lottery funds. Thus, it was no surprise when the state department of environmental quality did not cite this business who was spewing out a sticky dust in the process of making wood pellets. This sticky dust coated an entire local neighborhood daily. The real life plaintiff’s attorney got an acknowledgement of the pollution by the DEQ, but nothing else at the cost of his practice.
In Michael Clayton -- George Clooney is a 'fixer' in a large firm with a large corporate client. The large corporate client has done bad things and covered-up the signal document of their misdeeds. Arthur, the chief litigator of the large firm, has had enough of the cheating and lying. He switches sides to the plaintiff's. So, the corporate lawyers murder him. In real life, an intelligent, sophisticated, female member of a large local law firm who is milking the Professional Liability Fund like mother's milk, resigns in protest. Does any body notice? No. Meanwhile, Chrys Martin, a prominent lawyer with a prestigious position in a large, downtown law firm, remarks to me in an unguarded moment, "Don't we all really hate the law, after all!"
The Bonfire of the Vanities -- Tom Wolfe wrote the classic book, The Bonfire of the Vanities turned into a 1990 Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis movie. Author Wolfe's aim was to demonstrate that even though you may be the 'master of your universe', the slightest misstep can throw it all asunder. After our hero has to resort to lying in order to achieve justice, the judge describes justice thusly:
‘What is justice? Justice is the law. The law is man’s feeble attempt to set down principles of decency. Decency is what your grandmother taught you. It is in your bones. It is NOT taking the prime cuts. Now go home and be decent.'
The Talk Of The Town -- Then there is the Cary Grant film from the 1940’s. Cary Grant is in hiding as a suspected arsonist of a fire that killed a local man. He hides out until a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court, Ronald Colman, decides to sacrifice that honor to clear Cary Grant of the spurious charges. Before that supreme act of judicial courage, Cary Grant observes about the law and justice:
“The law is a gun pointed at your head. It all depends on which end of the gun you are on whether the law is just or not."
Be decent lawyers. Be decent judges. Do your duty to truth and justice. It is not about taking the prime cuts.