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Franklin & Bash Get the Law (Mostly) Right

I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll be watching Franklin & Bash on a regular basis. I do try to give the latest legal dramas and comedies a chance, and this one is a rare summer legal comedy. It stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who I remember fondly from the old Saved By the Bell series. He’s all grown up and playing a lawyer along with Breckin Meyer. They are two outlandish ambulance-chasing lawyers who get convinced by senior partner Malcolm McDowell (one of my favorite actors) to come work for a big fancy law firm.

The first scene showed one of the bad boys of law disobeying a judge’s order. It made me very happy that this landed him in jail (briefly) for contempt. That’s exactly what should happen.

The big plot line showed. . .

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Writing About Juries? Don’t Make These Gaffes

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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Looks Like We Need Another President: The Event, and What Really Happens When the President is Incapacitated

I was surprised when I watched this week’s episode of The Event and saw them swearing in the Vice President to be President. The plot is that the aliens who have infested the planet poisoned the President, intending to kill him. He’s in a coma. So the Vice President and Cabinet met to have him declared incapacitated. Then the Vice President was sworn in as President. I’m thinking, huh? He’s not actually the President yet. How can they swear him in as President? What gives?

So I looked it up. The writers got it half right. The 25th Amendment of the Constitution says:

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If You’re Writing About Sunken Treasure Hunting, You’re Using Admiralty Law

I got really excited about this article because when I teach about using the law in writing I always challenge people to tell me why admiralty law can be pretty exciting. They look at me with blank stares, because it sounds deadly dull, doesn’t it? But admiralty is more than cruise ship accidents. That’s because admiralty law covers anyone who finds or is hunting for sunken treasure.

In the article, a group of treasure hunters called the Black Swan Project found over $500 million in treasure on the ocean floor. Most writers assume that the law is “finders keepers” but it’s way more complicated than that. In this case, Spain made a claim on the treasure because they were the original ship owners. Peru says Spain stole the treasure and they want it. Now a researcher whose research was used to find the ship has made a claim on the loot too. So far, the courts are letting him proceed with his claim.

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The Good Wife, Emotional Distress and Employees

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

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

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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Fairly Legal Says You Can’t Copyright a Recipe – They’re Only Partly Right

I’ve found some peace with the show Fairly Legal, about a woman they call a mediator who does nothing that even vaguely resembles mediation. The way I’ve done it (because I still like the characters and the legal issues) is that I just keep telling myself she’s something new – a unique entity in the law.

In my mind, I call her a Conciliator. The weird part is, I think there’s room in the legal system for someone like this. It would be sort of a mediator, sort of an arbitrator, and sort of an investigator. There’s nothing like this now, and I suspect that this show might spark such an entity into being. She’s closest to an arbitrator, because arbitrators can investigate to some extent and in a very limited way. So I’m not writing to complain about how they went right off a cliff on the whole mediator concept.

Instead, I’m writing about a recent show involving a barbecue sauce recipe. The conciliator (I absolutely refuse to call her a mediator) made this statement: “You can’t copyright a recipe.” I shook my head, first because if she were a mediator she couldn’t give legal advice (okay, I’m going to complain a little), but second because she was wrong.

It’s true that you can’t copyright a list of ingredients. But you can absolutely copyright ...more Read More 
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The “V” Defrocking - Even Priests Get Due Process

Granted, the science fiction show “V” isn’t big on realism, but they committed a giant honking clunker last night when they showed their priest character getting laicized the day after he made a speech against the alien Visitors. The plotline is that Anna, the head of the Visitors, got to the Catholic Church in Rome by offering to let them send missionaries to their ships. The idea of so many new converts was appealing, no doubt. But her deal was that they had to stop priests from speaking out against them. The whole purpose was to stop one activist priest who is onto their lizardly nature and dastardly plans.

So our hero priest refuses to be cowed, makes another speech, and the next day he gets a letter that he’s been laicized. The elder priest who hands him the letter demands his collar. Bam! He’s no longer a priest.

I’m sitting there smacking my head. What the heck? As someone who was raised Catholic (lapsed), I know that they have rules and procedures for everything. They move at a glacier’s pace on any major decision. Remember all those pedophile priests they couldn’t get rid of? There’s a reason why.

So I looked it up. It took me about 15 minutes on the great wide interwebs to find out how a priest is legally defrocked. The writers could have bothered

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Fairly Legal is Unfairly Inaccurate About Mediators

I try to give all the new legal shows a fair chance. So when I started watching Fairly Legal, the new USA show, I was really hopeful. USA has a great track record of developing shows I enjoy. In fact, I think I watch all of their original shows: Burn Notice (one of the best shows on TV), Psych, In Plain Sight, White Collar, Royal Pains and Covert Affairs are all season passes on my TiVo. So I thought, yay, finally there will be a fun legal show I can watch.

The fact that the show has a mediator as its lead character made me really excited, since I’m a mediator, since I talk about mediation in The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers, and since the only other show with mediator characters I can recall is Wedding Crashers. When I teach at writing conferences, I always talk about underutilized characters in the legal system that writers can utilize to get away from the old typecasting. Mediators have great possibilities, so I encourage writers to use them in their stories.

The characterization was pretty good, and that’s what USA is particularly good at. They develop interesting characters with interesting backgrounds and make them funny. Fairly Legal started out so well – the mediator was the victim of an armed robbery and she negotiated a resolution that was a win-win for the robber and store owner. Fantastic!

Then it went utterly off the rails. The mediator is a former lawyer who works for her now-deceased father’s law firm. The wicked stepmother is in charge and clients start abandoning the firm the day of Dad’s funeral. The firm’s in trouble, and one of the firm’s clients is about to walk away from a deal the firm negotiated. Wicked SM wants our mediator to mediate the client back on track. In the meantime, a judge who hates our mediator appoints her to mediate a case he thinks is a waste of time. Okay, so far not so bad.

Here are the top ways this story went into lala land:

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