F 2017


        Some of the most dramatic and memorable movies involve courtroom battles and the best of them illuminate important social and political issues.  A movie can deal with an issue with immediacy, rather than philosophical detachment.  That is what imprints them in the minds of the viewers.  This SDG will explore movies which have become classics due to their dramatic presentations and their treatment of ideas and, not least, because they are engrossing movies. We will view each movie before the meeting and then discuss how the movie makes its points, the roles of the lawyers and judge, the filmmaker’s skill, the social or political issues, how the trial deals with the issues, whether a trial is an appropriate forum for resolution of those issues and whether the movie is effective at either demonstrating the issue or arguing one side of the issue. The idea is to discuss one movie each week.  However, it will be possible to include additional movies if participants feel strongly about them.

Weekly Topics

Movie                                                           Issue

1.       Judgment at Nuremberg                              Is a trial appropriate for war crimes?

2.       Twelve Angry Men                                       Does the jury system work?

3.       Kramer v. Kramer                                        Should a civil judge decide custody/visitation issues?

4.       M                                                                  How to judge insanity.  Who make the best judges?

5.       Inherit the Wind                                            Religious disputes in the courtroom

6.       Anatomy of a Murder                                   What is the duty of a lawyer?

7.       Reversal of Fortune                                     The appellate process

8.       A Civil Action                                                Can courts remedy environmental wrongs?

9.      The Verdict                                                    How effective lawyering & evidentiary rules matter

1.     My Cousin Vinny                                            Does the system work, despite stumbling of counsel?

11   The Accused                                                  How courts function in emotional issues, like rape

1.     A Man For All Seasons                                  Can a court honor conscience in conflict with authority?

1       Paths of Glory                                                Can a court deal with wrongs of combat?

1.    The People v. Larry Flynt                               How broad is the First Amendment?


We will use as a reference book “Reel Justice” by Paul Bergmann and Michael Asimow, both UCLA law professors.  There are critical materials by reviewers and academics available about all of the movies, and everyone will be encouraged to read some of them for each movie and to research the issues framed by the trials.