Staying in this weekend? Here are some of our favorite legal documentaries to keep you company.
Feel free to leave us your thoughts, comments, and reactions to the films in the comments section.
Gideon’s Army follows the personal stories of Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and June Hardwick, three young public defenders who are part of a small group of idealistic lawyers in the Deep South challenging the assumptions that drive a criminal justice system strained to the breaking point. Backed by mentor Jonathan “Rap” Rapping, a charismatic leader who heads the Southern Public Defender Training Center (now known as Gideon’s Promise) they struggle against long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads so common that even the most committed often give up in their first year. Nearly 50 years since the landmark Supreme Court ruling Gideon vs. Wainwright that established the right to counsel, can these courageous lawyers revolutionize the way America thinks about indigent defense and make “justice for all” a reality?
The Case Against 8
The Case Against 8 is a behind-the-scenes look inside the historic case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The high-profile trial first makes headlines with the unlikely pairing of Ted Olson and David Boies, political foes who last faced off as opposing attorneys in Bush v. Gore. The film also follows the plaintiffs, two gay couples who find their families at the center of the same-sex marriage controversy. Five years in the making, this is the story of how they took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mann v. Ford
One of the worst environmental disasters in the United States is located just 19 miles from New York City. This toxic Superfund site is at the former home of the Ford Motor Plant in Mahwah, NJ, which was the country’s largest car factory when it opened in 1955. Thousands of cars were produced over the following decades, along with a mountain of toxic paint sludge, which was dumped on the nearby lands of the Ramapough Mountain Indians. This film tells the story of Wayne Mann, the leader of a small Native American community, who stands up to Ford. It spans from Ford’s factory floors to the marbled halls of Congress. It is a tale of groundbreaking victories, including the first Superfund site ever re-listed by the EPA. It is also the story of terrible deaths and defeats. Mann v. Ford follows a community’s mission to clean up the toxic byproduct of the American Dream, and to seek justice for themselves and their families.
Everyone knows the McDonald’s coffee case. It has been routinely cited as an example of how citizens have taken advantage of America’s legal system, but is that a fair rendition of the facts? Hot Coffee reveals what really happened to Stella Liebeck, the Albuquerque woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s, while exploring how and why the case garnered so much media attention, who funded the effort and to what end. After seeing this film, you will decide who really profited from spilling hot coffee.
The film also delves into the 25-year public relations campaign starting in the mid-80’s and continuing over the last two decades to convince the public that we have out of control juries, gave too many frivolous lawsuits and a civil justice system that needs reforming. Big business and special interest have used anecdotes, half-truths and sometimes out and out lies in their efforts, for one purpose – to put limits on people’s access to the court system, the one and only place where an average citizen can go toe to toe with those with money and power and still have a shot at justice.