What would Atticus Finch do?
Atticus Finch, the lead lawyer in Harper Lee’s much celebrated American novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, represents the best traits in a defence lawyer and in a person, He is an independent thinker who doesn’t rush to judgment, one who is compassionate, thoughtful and on the side of the underdog.
Atticus takes on the unpopular cause of a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman in a predominately white, small 1930’s Alabama town. Through his hard work, patience and wisdom, Atticus endures the backlash of his community, ultimately teaching his children and the readers some valuable lessons along the way.
Atticus says to his daughter, “the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Moving from literature to the movies, I wonder if this is what Al Pacino’s character, Arthur Kirkland, in the film … And Justice For All , had in mind when he had an unforgettable courtroom meltdown.
Arthur was a lawyer who cared too much and had seen too much. He was haunted by some horrible injustices to his clients that occurred under his watch, and he started to crack.
Arthur then takes on the case of Judge Fleming, accused of a vicious sexual assault. The two of them hated each other from their past dealings. But, Judge Fleming saw retaining Arthur as a smart strategic move. At first, Arthur believed in Fleming’s innocence, but then on the eve of trial was provided information that proved his guilt.
So, after years of witnessing tragic injustices and not willing to endure another, Arthur effectively ends his legal career with this opening address to the jury about the victim and his client:
Arthur Kirkland: “… she’s not lying. And ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution is not gonna get that man today. No! Because I’m gonna get him! My client … should go right to f’ing jail! The s.o.b. is guilty! That man is guilty!” …
Judge Rayford: “Mr. Kirkland, you are out of order!”
Arthur Kirland: “No, you’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!”
Arthur continues this legendary rant against his own client and is eventually dragged out of the courtroom by the court officers. I love that scene. Classic Pacino and riveting courtroom drama … although clearly not the best legal strategy from the defence perspective!
I wonder if Arthur re-read To Kill a Mockingbird before giving that jury address, especially the part when Atticus says, “before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.”