Raising the Bar?

Of course I watched TNT’s “new hit drama,” Raising the Bar. I loved it! Fun, funny, public defenders telling judges they are petty tyrants — what’s not to love!?

Ok, so I’m also a fan of the series’ real creator, David Feige, based on his blog and his book, the latter of which I also thoroughly enjoyed and found to be a terrifically realistic account of working as a public defender (granted the many differences between the urban NY setting and my own experience in what is a basically a rural locale). (I wrote about it, but currently the Now Reading plugin upon which I rely for that sort of thing is leading to all 404 errors and I can’t figure out why. I hate blogs, sometimes.)

And, so, ok, it’s not perfect. We have a criminal trial where the highlight for the defense is the closing argument in a case where the State’s witnesses lied. Where is the devastating cross that reveals these lies!? We have the public defender and the prosecutor on the case sitting down for a drink together after work in the middle of trial. Really!? I mean, ok, so I went to lunch w/the prosecutor (and the judge, strangely enough) on a trial once after we’d finished and were waiting for the jury to deliberate. I found that absolutely surreal. But to go out for a drink in the middle of a trial? And the idea that the defenders and prosecutors and judicial clerks regularly seem to socialize? Um, again, really!? What planet is that? Is that really how it is in NYC?

Let’s see… I won’t even touch the fact that the defense attorney and prosecutor appear to be sleeping together at the end of the episode. Whatever. Also problematic is how much the show dwells on the supposed agonizing of the prosecutor whose heart is apparently in the right place but who has a hard time doing the right thing b/c neither the judge nor her boss will let her. Let’s praise good prosecutors a bit more, shall we?

And of course the show throws out red meat in the first episode by focusing on a case where not only does the jury acquit on the main charge (rape) but also there is apparent factual innocence in the form of a confession by someone else to the same crime. That happens like, never, but it should be good to see how the show deals in the future w/the cases where guilt/innocence is not so clear. Will we still be praising the prosecution then?

All of that said, it’s television! What can we expect, really? What I loved particularly, of course, the red meat for me, was the defense attorney telling the judge exactly what he thought of her. Boy do I know that judge! And boy do I know the feelings and thoughts that public defender expressed! And boy have I been there — exactly there — including where the judge says “I’m punishing your client b/c I don’t like you” but then says, “well, I didn’t exactly say that, did I?” And also I’ve been exactly there where the judge demands/requires an apology, whether I mean it or not. Kiss the ring the judge says. My situation was not in the middle of some case or contempt charge so it was a little different. My supervisor didn’t go to the judge on my behalf; instead, the judge complained to my supervisor about me so I’m the one who visited the judge and actually did apologize in a general way, explaining that I was just trying to do my job and I hope the judge understood that, then biting my tongue when the judge didn’t seem to hear a thing I’d said and then told me that the best way I could help my clients was to make sure I did not anger a judge, because, well, judges try not to hold it against a defendant when the judge is mad at the defendant’s attorney, but that’s not always easy so the best thing to do is just not make the judge mad in the first place. See? Got it bucko? My way, or the highway! So, yeah, different, but boy can I relate!

And who among us has not had that experience where basically we do win, and everyone is saying we won, but we feel like we lost? Where we win the motion to set bail pending appeal and then the judge sets bail at some obscene amount he/she knows our client could never ever post? Where we maybe even win our client’s release on some sort of plea or something, but know that he had to take some charge of which he was totally innocent just to placate the “system” — namely, the prosecutor and/or judge? You can’t just focus on the positive of the “win” because the gall of the loss is just too great. The show captured that well in this first episode, I thought, and was entertaining to boot.

It’s not perfect. It’s television. Here’s a pretty good summary from a reviewer who Feige says “gets it”:

Raising the Bar follows a collection of young lawyers who work against each another, as prosecutors and public defenders.

But in Raising the Bar, as in real-life courts, most of their ”work” consists of a minuet to avoid the mutually assured destruction of an actual trial, which nobody on either side has the time or resources to deal with. The prosecutors threaten draconian prison sentences, the defenders bluster about scorched-earth battles over pre-trial motions, and eventually a bargain is struck.”

Trial as mutually assured destruction. I like it. I wish. When you’ve got a second prosecutor on the bench and your opposition has far more resources than you to prepare for trial, it’s more like self-destruction for a defense attorney to go to trial. But hey, it’s obviously not that way everywhere. Still, the above is a pretty accurate description of both our justice system and what’s depicted in the show. (But as for the rest of the review, how can throwing lawyers in jail w/their clients not be dramatic!? How is it not dramatic for the young prosecutor to be sleeping w/the young public defender?) I’ll definitely be watching next Monday and I highly recommend you do the same!

2 thoughts on “Raising the Bar?”

  1. Thanks.
    You made my day. I’m glad you liked it, and could see and appreciate the core of the show. Keep watching. It only gets better. And I think we’ll address some of your questions too…

  2. It’s interesting how attorneys view these shows, prosecutors often get annoyed because they interfere with the general public’s concept of how cases are prosecuted. The Los Angeles District Attorney actually called jury pools stupid because of heightened expectations brought on by television.

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