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Writing About Juries? Don’t Make These Gaffes

May 24, 2011

Tags: writing tips, The Good Wife, juries

I want to nitpick one of my favorite shows, The Good Wife, again. A couple gaffes with jury scenes really threw me out of the moment recently. It seems that most people who write about juries have never actually seen jury selection or how bailiffs handle juries, because I see lots of stuff that’s flat out wrong when I read or watch jury scenes. Here are two things not to do:

Jury selection: When the lawyers do jury selection, they have the opportunity to ask questions of jurors. Then they get to agree with the juror being seated or challenge the juror. What will (probably – I won’t say never) not happen is that the lawyers object to jurors in front o of the jury pool. This happens after the questions (voir dire) are asked and the jury is sent outside. Prospective jurors are sent to the hallway or a room away from the lawyers and judge.

Then the judge will go through the list, something like this:

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The Good Wife, Emotional Distress and Employees

April 6, 2011

Tags: writing tips, The Good Wife, intentional infliction of emotional distress, employment law

Last night’s episode of The Good Wife was called “Wrongful Termination.” (Yes, I'm writing about The Good Wife again. Sorry, but it's a great show). I cringed at the title because Illinois, like every state in the nation but one, is an at-will state, meaning employers can fire or discipline employees for any reason or no reason at all. So my expectations were low.

I got a pleasant surprise.

It’s still not clear to me what the lawyers’ theory of the case was, but the best I can decipher from the arguments is that they were claiming the tort called “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Illinois, unlike my home state of Florida, does allow this type of case to be brought against employers.

The facts were that

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The Good Wife Doesn't Know Much About Mediation

March 23, 2011

Tags: writing tips, The Good Wife, Fairly Legal, mediation

Why the heck can’t TV shows get mediation right? I mean, if a comedy like The Wedding Crashers can do it, why not courtroom dramas? Fairly Legal has made a mockery of what mediation is about, but I expect USA shows to be silly. Now comes The Good Wife, and I usually expect better from them. I’m a mediator, and this kind of error hurts my feelings because the writers clearly don’t give a hoot about getting mediation right. Mediation is suddenly popular with writers, so why won’t they find out what really happens in a mediation session?

Getting it wrong

Here’s just some of the stuff I keep hearing on TV about mediation that’s glaringly stupid.

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The Good Wife, The Right of Publicity, And Why Writers Should Be Scared

February 27, 2011

Tags: writing tips, The Good Wife, publicity rights

A recent episode of The Good Wife, a consistently good legal drama, focused on what I think is one of the most important issues affecting the writing and publishing industry today: the right of publicity. In the show, a character similar to Mark Zuckerberg didn’t like the way he was portrayed in a movie similar to The Social Network. He sued for defamation. Enter our hero law firm.

The lawyers realized pretty quickly that this client was never going to win a defamation case. He was a public figure, like it or not, and therefore the First Amendment squashed the defamation claim pretty cleanly. They’d have to prove actual malice, and that’s really hard to prove.

Then they got an idea. An awful idea. The lawyers got a wonderful awful idea. They’d sue under the right of publicity. How did they do it? And why is the right of publicity such a danger to writers? Let me explain.

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Lawyers with Alzheimer’s, Conflicts of Interest and Ethical Conundrums in The Good Wife

May 6, 2010

Tags: Alzheimer's, competence, confidentiality, conflict of interest, duty of zealous advocacy, former clients, impaired lawyer, legal writing, The Good Wife, writing tips

A recent plotline in The Good Wife bugged me so much that I did some research on the ethical conundrums it raised. When I got no satisfactory answer on my own, I did what every good writer should do – I called someone who knew what they were talking about. In this case, I used (or possibly misused) the Florida Bar’s Ethics Hotline. Most states have something similar, where lawyers can call up and get some advice when ethical issues arise. I confessed right away that I was calling about an ethical issue from a TV show, and was lucky enough to run into a lawyer on the hotline who happens to be a fan of The Good Wife. She knew exactly which two episodes I was talking about.

Confidentiality Within the Lawyer’s Firm

In the first episode that was bothering me, our heroine, a newbie lawyer, got drafted to represent a firm partner in a legal matter. In the midst of her representation, it came out that her client had Alzheimer’s. She now knows that a hotshot lawyer, a firm partner, is impaired, unable to represent clients competently, at least some of the time. Her supervisor is a different partner. The client/partner tells her that the existence of his disease is confidential, and she can’t tell anyone, even her boss. (more…)

The Good Wife’s Gaffe on Money Laundering

March 17, 2010

Tags: cash payments, criminal proceeds, money laudering, The Good Wife, writing tips

Anyone who reads this blog knows I enjoy the courtroom drama The Good Wife. I try not to be hypersensitive when they get things wrong because they do so well. But this week’s episode went off the rails a bit. In the story, a known drug dealer being pursued by the FBI for (more…)

The Good Wife Does Objections Right, Circumstantial Evidence Wrong

February 6, 2010

Tags: circumstantial evidence, eyewitness testimony, hostile witness, objections, The Good Wife, writing, writing tips

It doesn’t take much to give me a thrill when I’m watching a legal drama. Even the tiniest bit of law done right can make me happy. Yes, I’m probably easily amused. But when a screenwriter gets it right, I jump for joy because it’s so darned rare.

HOSTILE WITNESSES

When I was watching The Good Wife last week, the lawyer was examining a witness using leading questions. In general, leading questions are ones with yes or no answers. Opposing counsel objected to the leading questions. The lawyer conducting the examination responded that the witness was hostile and he was allowed to lead.

When the judge overruled the objection, I was happy beyond words. That tiny bit of correct procedure added to my viewing pleasure. Here’s what was going on that they got right.
(more…)

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