Judge Williams’ Column

The Judge recommends legal movies


Do judges watch movies and television shows featuring courtrooms?  Yes, at least most of the ones I know do. 

I find that various versions of “Law and Order” are worth watching, even if judges seem to make evidentiary rules as they step onto an elevator, rather than in a courtroom on the record. 

So, what is the best legal movie? 

If the criteria is a compelling story with realistic courtroom scenes, then it is a tie for first place between “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) and “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959).  Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart are captivating as criminal defense attorneys.

Anatomy of a Murder” gets extra points for briefly featuring Duke Ellington.

However, those movies are not for everyone.  Even though they are old enough to be filmed in black and white, they deal with sexual assault and with very mature themes. 

For a more modern movie, that is actually quite funny, it is hard to beat “My Cousin Vinny” (1992).  This film teaches part of the Rules of Criminal Procedure, as well as one way to impeach expert testimony. 

Arguably, the best cross-examination on film is in “Presumed Innocent” (1990) and arguably the best closing argument in a movie is delivered by Matthew McConaughey in “A Time to Kill” (1996).     

Perhaps if I had not served as an Air Force judge advocate, I could recommend “A Few Good Men” (1992); but I see too many mistakes. 

Films like “Legally Blonde” (2001), “Liar, Liar” (1997), and even The Three Stooges’ “Disorder in the Court” (1936) are entertaining; but I would not put them on a must see list.  

For a close up of civil litigation, “The Verdict” (1982) and “Class Action” (1991) are solid.  Somehow, “The Social Network” (2010) made flashbacks from a deposition interesting.

Two legal movies that I think are underrated are “Legal Eagles” (1986) and “Suspect” (1987).  In “Legal Eagles,” Robert Redford and Debra Winger team up to defend Daryl Hannah.  However, if you are talking to a jury, don’t try the trick where you ask jurors to raise their hands; unless, of course, you are as smooth as Robert Redford.      

“Suspect” features wildly inappropriate contact between a public defender, played by Cher, and a juror, Dennis Quaid.  It also features Liam Neeson as a homeless deaf-mute accused of murder.

There is one legal movie that should be on everyone’s must see list. 

It is also the only one that is guaranteed to made you feel good for watching it, even if you have already seen it 20 times.  That movie is “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947).  This Christmas classic also features one of my favorite uses of physical evidence.                                               

Judge Gerald Williams is the Justice of the Peace for the North Valley Justice Court.  His column appears monthly in The Foothills Focus.