The movie And Justice for All is a story about a criminal defense attorney and his struggles while seeking justice for his clients. He represents various clients who have either been accused of crimes they have some involvement in or have been wrongfully accused. A specific case involves a young man who had been wrongfully convicted based upon a technicality, while in a similar set of circumstances, a client was sent to prison because an attorney standing in for the protagonist neglected to provide the judge with the necessary information that would have allowed the client to be freed on probation. The legal subject was criminal law, but there were a number of issues relevant to the court system and legal profession having to do with the behind-the-scenes politics and personalities of lawyers and judges; the manner by which the issue of ethics is used as a form of intimidation and blackmail; and that most, if not all of the characters within the legal profession were highly neurotic.
It is not easy to say what I would have done if I were the attorney. Posed with a number of individual dilemmas he seemed to be doing the best that was possible under the given set of circumstances. But in the case where his client had been wrongfully convicted I could not help but wonder why he didn’t file for an appeal. In another case, the attorney was forced to represent a judge whom he did not like. The client was the same judge who had convicted his innocent client and after being arrested for a brutal rape the judge eventually admitted to the attorney that he had committed the crime. In this situation the attorney had been blackmailed into representing the judge for an ethical lapse that had happened early in his career (perhaps justifiably so). Perhaps the attorney felt he was in a situation where he could not win and in his opening statement the attorney admitted to the jury that his client was guilty. I do not know if I would have done something similar and would only understand his predicament if I were actually in a similar situation.
I would argue that the end to the movie was satisfying. The attorney understood that his legal career was over no matter what happened with the case with the judge. This is arguable but I believe the attorney felt that he would just continue to be a pawn of the political machinery behind protecting the judge. His actions in the court were also a way of getting revenge for the client wrongfully convicted, who eventually was shot and killed by the police. But what made the ending particularly satisfying is what occurred after the attorney walked out of the courthouse. He was sitting on the stairs leading up to the court’s entryway when his legal partner, who recently had experienced a mental breakdown and had shaved off his hair, was walking up the stairway. His partner lifted up a toupee as if it were a hat and said hello to the attorney who then looks into the camera. That ending seemed to have sent a couple of messages: that either you had to be crazy to work in the legal profession or that the “lunatics were in charge of the asylum.”
What might be relevant to the class is that we should pay at least some attention to the legal ramifications of what we do and the decisions we make. If forced into a situation where legal representation is required there is no telling what the outcome may be because legal decisions and actions are out of our control. Secondly, and perhaps most important of all, is that regardless of the actions and behaviors of others we should always adhere to ethical principles. We should never be a party to unethical schemes and business practices that are ultimately harmful to the businesses we either own or work for, and to stakeholders as well. Whenever ethical lapses occur they should be addressed immediately and corrective actions should take place in order to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.
- And Justice for All. Dir. Norman Jewison. Perf. Al Pacino. 1979. Columbia TriStar Home Video,