Thursday, July 18, 2019

Boston Legal, tricky loyalties [Media Notes 6]

One of my online friends offered Boston Legal in response to my previous note, On the distinction between one’s personal interests and one’s duties to the organization [Media Notes 5]. I’m 15 episodes into the first season and don’t think so, not quite. Oh, the show oozes conflict, but I don’t think it’s the kind of corruption where one uses one’s position in some organization to advance one’s personal interests (often at the expense the organization). Oh, there may be some of that going on, but that’s not the strongest signal I’m getting. That signal is about a lawyer’s duty to the law and their duty to their client.

For example, in S1 E7, “Questionable Characters”, one of the lawyers, Lori Colson, gets a call from a man whom she’d used as an informant in the days when she had been a prosecutor. He’s been shot and is in the hospital where they’re about to remove the bullet. He wants them to stop from removing the bullet.

Why? He got shot in the course of robbing a convenience story. That bullet – when matched to the store owner’s gun – is the only hard evidence connecting him to the crime. That will make him a parole violator and, in consequence, he’ll go to prison for 30 years. Colson happens to like him – not romantically, but he’d been a good informant. And now he’s her client. She has a duty to him.

Colson goes to court an convinces that judge that such a dangerous and invasive procedure, removing the bullet, shouldn’t be done against the patient’s will. The prosecutor asserts that this is a routine procedure of relatively little danger to the patient, whereas leaving the bullet in could be life-threatening. The judge sides with Colson.

She knew that he was guilty. But 30 years? No, he’s her client.

Complications ensue. The bullet starts moving and the former shows up at the law office in pain. Colson isn’t there, but an associate is. She asks another lawyer, Alan Shore, for help. He gives her the phone number of a doctor who’s lost his license and now works as a veterinarian. He’s also willing to bend the law. He removes the bullet, which is returned to Colson. Who keeps it.

Was justice served?

There seems to be a lot of that on the show. Colson wasn’t bending the law on her own behalf. She was helping a client.

What do we make of this? I think there’s a lot of this in TV shows of various kinds. There are strict rules and there are evasions. What is the range of permissible evasion?

And why are we posing these questions to ourselves?

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