The Practice gets warmed up
by Rob Waring
In the episode that aired on
October 5, 2003, The Practice got weirder. (Please see
Paul Bergman's excellent recap
of cast changes for the new season and the first episode.)
Eleanor defends a man accused of poisoning his wife, but the
case against him grows stronger when another suspect (his sister-in-law)
holds up well on cross-examination. Against the advice of his
lawyers, he insists on taking the stand in his own defense because
he thinks he has an honest face. Predictably, it gets worse for
him when he is confronted with a marital argument a neighbor
overheard that contradicts a key part of his testimony. His ten-year-old
daughter, who inexplicably and inappropriately is brought to
the courtroom each day to hear the sordid tales of her parents'
affairs and arguments, then blurts out that she knows something.
Eleanor pulls a confession out of her that she poisoned her mother.
On the strength of this, the rather gullible DA opts to dismiss
the charges against the father, having been told that he'll
have to take defense counsel's word because the girl's new lawyer
will not allow her to incriminate herself again.
a subsequent twist, the father confesses to his lawyers that
he duped them by putting his daughter up to a false confession.
Since double jeopardy applies, he believes he has now gotten
away with murder. As they set their jaws in frustration at having
been "played," he earnestly (with that honest face)
implores them to work with him to free his innocent daughter.
After he leaves, an embittered Eleanor vows that they will "take
him down." That should be a real WWF smack-down event. So,
we have yet another edition of the noble defense lawyer who wants
to play judge and jury. Memo to viewers: when a lawyer has a
lying client who is manipulating her, she should get off the
case as the earliest opportunity. Resign. Vengeance is what defense
attorneys fight against. If it gets a hold of your emotions,
it's time to consider becoming a prosecutor.
Considering how sophisticated
he appears, it is hard to believe the father has not considered
another problem. Pushed by the girl's aunt, Child Protective
Services will almost certainly seek to have him declared an unfit
father if he testifies that the girl was lying. Convincing a
child to falsely confess to a murder only adds to the presumption
that a parent who kills is not a fit parent. In a dependency
hearing, unlike in criminal court, that he killed wife need not
be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But, maybe he is a total
sociopath and doesn't really care about custody of his daughter.
The second story line is likely
to create more fuel for future episodes. In a delicious reprise
of his role as a sadistic lawyer in the film Secretary,
new cast member Alan (played by James Spader) takes on the claim
of Sheila (played by Sharon Stone), a friend and brilliant litigator
who has never lost a case. It seems she has been fired from her
law firm because she hears and obeys the voice of God. She also
thinks bald men can read her thoughts. So naturally, Alan claims
she has a disability and that her firing violated laws protecting
the disabled. Adam Arkin, making a guest appearance as defense
counsel, asserts that the claim is frivolous because the disability
laws do not protect people who are insane. (The Americans with
Disabilities Act has been held to protect workers with moderate
forms of mental illness.)
Alan tries to obtain a settlement
by pointing out that the senior partner in the firm had sex with
the plaintiff, and that if their defense is insanity she lacked
the ability to give consent. That would make the partner guilty
of rape under the law. Arkin protests that a threat of a criminal
prosecution in order to force a settlement is blackmail and a
violation of a lawyer's ethical duties that is grounds for disbarment.
Later, Eugene, who seems to have assumed the role of senior partner
on the show now that Bobby is gone, also chastises Alan for this
Although I recall Alan referring
to the criminal violation as being strong enough to interest
the DA, he did not actually condition bringing the charge upon
failure to settle the ADA claim. He was pushing the envelope,
and should have chosen his words more carefully. It was legitimate
for him to point out that his trial strategy for refuting Arkin's
assertion that Sheila was insane would be to raise the sexual
relations as proof that the senior partner apparently did not
regard her as insane. (Or else that would make him a rapist subject
to prosecution.) In any event, as a plot device it provides further
evidence that Alan is unethical and that he and Eugene are likely
to have more confrontations over his tactics.
Flash forward to the trial,
with Sheila making her opening statement. Apparently getting
messages from God, she is able to point out personal details
in the lives of several jurors. This explains her unbroken string
of trial victories. In this case, however, she is a bit too open
about her secret weapon, and her unnerving approach results in
a mistrial. (Proving once again, that an attorney who represents
herself has a fool for a client.) Sheila, who cannot stand to
be alone with her thoughts (apparently God is a bit of a chatterbox)
begs Alan to give her a job and a case to work on. His loyalty
to her (heavily sprinkled with flirtation) proves strong, and
he agrees to find a way for her to work for his new firm, even
though he has not consulted Eugene. So now there is a a supernatural
character and plot element, just in time for Halloween.
The obvious place for Sheila
is as a jury consultant. Her source of inside information would
make her a much sought after trial weapon. This closely tracks
one of the plot elements in The Devil's Advocate, where
Keanu Reeves, apparently in communication with the devil, has
an uncanny ability to pick juries and has never lost a case.
(He does provide an earthly explanation as to how he was "privy"
to the minds of jurors, but the suspicion remains that he has
some help from Dad.) It will be interesting to see if The
Practice pursues this vector. (If the show does go in this
direction, it won't be with this character. Sharon Stone is only
scheduled for a guest appearance for a few episodes.) A lawyer
with an unlimited source of inside information could raise holy
hell in the courtroom.
Posted October 14, 2003