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Robert S. Duxstad
Daniel P. Bestul
Lance A. McNaughton

“The Judge” Teaches the Importance of Local Counsel

Posted: 11.12.2014  |  Author: 

Recently my wife and I watched the movie, The Judge, starring Robert Downey, Jr., and Robert Duvall. In the movie, Duvall is a local judge in a rural Indiana County, very similar to Green or Lafayette County. Downey plays his estranged son who had left home and became a big city defense lawyer. The judge is accused of being in a hit and run accident with a drunk person riding a bicycle at night causing his death. Downey is drawn in as his father’s defense attorney. The great acting of both of these stars made the movie well-worth watching; but it is two scenes in the movie that drive home the importance of hiring a local attorney in cases that may end up in court.


The first scene was during the jury selection process. The prosecutor, played by Billy Bob Thornton, is a prosecutor from out of town who has little knowledge of the community, much less the citizens who were called to jury duty. One can immediately sense that Thornton seems out of place in the court room. In contrast, Downey is able to make an immediate connection with the potential jurors as a local person who knows their small town background and their values. Downey creatively selects jurors who will be sympathetic to his father’s case, by asking what type of bumper stickers each juror has on their personal vehicles. The jury that is ultimately selected is one that will best be able to sympathize with his father’s blight and has a trust in Downey.


The second scene occurs during the cross-examination by Downey of a deputy who investigated the accident scene. The deputy had testified on direct that there were no skid marks at the accident scene, implying that this wasn’t an accidental death, but rather the judge had purposely run down the victim. On cross-examination, Downey asks the deputy if he is able to identify what appears to be “road kill” very near the location where the victim had been hit by the car. When the officer answers affirmatively, Downey then gets the officer to agree that the “road kill” was actually the remains of a large snapping turtle. Downey then describes to the officer the loud popping noise that occurs when a driver accidentally hits a turtle at night, something the jurors had all experienced. Finally, Downey is able to have the deputy agree that the judge could very well have thought he had struck a snapping turtle that dark rainy night, and not have known he had struck a drunk person erratically riding on a bike in the roadway. This “local turtle phenomenon” helped to explained away the lack of skid marks and planted the doubt in the jurors’ minds regarding the issue of whether the judge had acted intentionally. This scene is a powerful reminder of the benefit of having an attorney who is familiar with everyday experiences of the jurors and judges who may decide their client’s fate.


I won’t tell you how the movie ends, but I can say that over the past thirty five years of trying cases in Green and Lafayette Counties, I can recall numerous times when being the local attorney on the case worked to my client’s advantage in both criminal and civil cases. Hiring the big shot attorney from out of town may seem like the thing to do at the beginning of a case, but in many instances the extra expense yields mediocre results at best. Rather, hiring an experienced local attorney to represent you when you need help can often be your best option.


Robert S. Duxstad practices in both Green and Lafayette Counties in Wisconsin. He can be reached by e-mail at duxstad@duxstadlaw.com.


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