The Practice Opens a New Season With a Somewhat
By Paul Bergman
As the curtain rises on the
new season of The Practice, the familiar cast has radically
changed. Bobby Donnell's law firm has been purged of Donnell
himself as well as Lindsey Dole and Rebecca Washington. Like
most law firm breakups, money was the cause. Apparently ABC
is paying less per episode (given the poor ratings of last year's
show) and David Kelley's production company has sliced payroll.
Also history are DA Helen Gamble and receptionist Lucy Hatcher.
a new lawyer has emerged: Alan Shore (James Spader). Shore claims
to have been a very successful antitrust lawyer in a large corporate
law firm. However, he's left that firm after admittedly embezzling
funds (it was half Robin Hood-he stole from the rich but kept
the money for himself). This admission doesn't stop Eleanor
Frutt from immediately assigning him to defend a vagrant facing
a misdemeanor battery charge for kissing a haughty businesswoman.
Shore soon discovers that the law firm is no longer one of the
premiere criminal defense firms in the city-they are struggling
to survive with their biggest rainmaker (Bobby Donnell) off on
his own. In fact, the firm can't even front the price of a new
suit for the client. So Shore has to lend him a suit and shoes.
The show's strongest story
involved a criminal defense by Jimmy Berluti and Eugene Young
of a black woman charged with murdering a cocaine dealer who
lived on her block. An excessively nasty trial judge forbids
them from arguing self-defense or defense of third parties because
a videotape clearly shows the defendant walking up to and shooting
the dealer who wasn't threatening anyone at the time. The defendant
herself forbids them from arguing that she was insane, because
she knew just what she was doing. She killed the dealer because
he had ruined the lives of many adults and children and the police
did nothing to stop him (aside from putting up a video camera
that films the murder). Thus Jimmy and Eugene have to hope for
"jury nullification," another argument that the trial
judge will not allow. In his argument to the jury, Jimmy emphasizes
his client's plight and, to avoid the judge's wrath, repeatedly
tells the jurors that he can't tell them to nullify an unjust
law. His hope is that the jurors will realize that he wants
them to do just that, and of course they do.
The jury nullification argument
is an interesting and important theme. Jury nullification has
a long and checkered history in the U.S. John Adams asked a
colonial jury to nullify British sedition laws in the trial of
John Peter Zenger. This helped establish freedom of the press
in the colonies. On the other hand, Southern white juries also
practiced nullification in refusing to convict whites who had
lynched blacks. Today, jury nullification is suspect. Lawyers
are not permitted to argue it. Jurors who suggest it in the
jury room are in danger of being bounced off the jury for having
violated their oath to follow the law. But jury nullification
still happens in juries all across the land. And defenders of
the jury system often mention jury nullification as a reason
for keeping this antique institution. Jimmy's closing argument-archly
telling the jury that he couldn't urge them to acquit his client
because she had killed a monster to protect her neighbors-was
a clever way to clue the jury in to the possibility that they
had an absolute right to acquit the defendant. But despite Jimmy's
rhetorical, B'rer Rabbit-like craftiness, his argument clearly
invites the jurors to nullify the law. The judge would have
had valid grounds to cite him for contempt and perhaps refer
the case to the State Bar's disciplinary authority.
Meanwhile, Alan Shore ends
up in front of an equally humorless, almost as nasty trial judge.
Like Jimmy and Eugene, Shore lacks a legal defense to the battery
charge. However, his client too has a strong moral defense.
The businesswoman not only refused his request for alms, but
also called him nasty names in front of his young daughter.
Since she had embarrassed him, he decided to embarrass her by
walking into her office and kissing her. Perhaps to avoid two
jury nullification arguments in the same show, Shore talks the
businesswoman into dropping the charges. Rather fortuitously
and unbelievably, the vagrant lived in a flop house and had an
insurance policy that could pay out $10,000 to a victim of "defamation."
Shore just happens to know the claims adjuster, who will look
the other way when agreeing that the vagrant's actions constitute
defamation and pay the woman $10,000. Thus Shore is really practicing
insurance fraud-and is called on it by the firm's new paralegal.
Shore is ethically challenged
and he also seems to be addicted to sexually harassing the law
firm staff and any other females in sight. It seems unlikely
that the firm-even given its present economic struggles-would
hire somebody who had just been kicked out of his law firm for
embezzling. It would have been more interesting if he had left
the former firm because the clients were rich slime only to discover
that the clients of his new firm were poor slime. Alan Shore's
character should prove interesting as David Kelley further develops
Posted October 3, 2003