Million Dollar Baby

John J. Hopkins Apr. 24, 2005, 9:10am

If one were inclined to see Clint Eastwood’s boxing movie, “Million Dollar Baby,” which received an Oscar for Best Picture in 2005, it’s a fair assumption that you have seen it by now.

Emotionally intense, but internally and logically inconsistent--and no where near as good as last year’s “Mystic River,” the film tells the story of a small town girl turned champion through the force of sheer will. While on the surface it presents as a “Rocky-like" feel- good story, it takes a dramatic and pessimistic turn at the end.

At the risk of spoiling the ending for those foot-draggers out there, the movie ends with the assisted suicide of boxer Maggie Fitzgerald by her trainer/father figure Frankie Dunn. Moral ambiguity aside, plot inconsistences ignored, and medical mistakes overlooked, “Million Dollar Baby” brings up an obvious comparison and a necessary comment upon the events in Florida surrounding the death of Terri Schiavo.

At the outset, let me gently remind readers--and myself for that matter--that this is not the Daily Catholic Messenger or The Watchtower, but the Madison County Record, a paper dedicated to the discussion of issues from a legalistic point of view.

So where is the basis for any such analysis here, in this hotly debated religious and ethical issue? Let us examine.

While the Schiavo case presented issues of faith and morality, it ultimately was always a legal matter. The gut-wrenching internal family debate was played out on a national stage while the main character sat silent, unaware of how both sides of the political spectrum had used and misused her.

It forcefully pointed out not only the need for properly drafted living wills and health care directives, but most unfortunately showed a very ugly and blatant manipulation of the courts to achieve a politically driven agenda.

The function of single case legislation is to permit a group, or in the Schiavo case, one family, to bring an action into federal court that the rest of society cannot.

While dubiously permissible under the Constitution, they are abhorrent to the function of the courts, which are--to use Atticus Finch’s phrase--to be the “great levelers,” where all stand equal. Such a high and noble purpose is fatally compromised by such actions.

Moreover, it is wrong to see the courts used in a capacity that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals termed a “manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people--our Constitution...”

It's good to see that someone recognized this case of improper forum shopping, and called it plain. Such a stern rebuke was ironically enough authored by Justice Stanley Baker, an appointee of President Bush No. 41.

Tampering with an independent judiciary is wrong. It strikes at the basis of the public’s confidence in and respect for the bench. It is wrong to secure a favorable ruling from a perceived political ally, but it is equally wrong when used to extort money from corporate America in dubious class actions, or by mass torts brought in a county without a sufficient connection to the claim.

Whether driven by greed or by social agenda, such selfish and short-sighted endeavors brings disfavor to the courts, and the image of the law suffers.

Clearly, the lesson of the Schiavo case is the need for advance directives on the end-of-life issues. Every family should have at least a living will, if not a complete estate planning package. It should not be simply downloaded from the Internet, but professionally and competently drafted by an attorney experienced in probate and related matters.

The price of inactivity, as clearly shown in the three-ring circus in Florida, far out weighs the costs incurred. All who have not done so are most strongly encouraged to get an appointment soon and take the steps necessary to protect your family.

Since this is not my area, no charges need be filed for the improper solicitation of business. My colleagues will hopefully incur a brisk uptake in business.

On a final note, we mark the passing of a great American lawyer, Johnnie Cochran. While not formally a member of the Madison County Bar Association, he did advertise in the Alton and Granite City phone books, so maybe that is close enough.

Most famous for the Simpson defense, he was most proud of his work before becoming a national celebrity, the work he termed for the "No J’s,” the cases of police brutality successfully brought on behalf of poor clients against the Los Angeles Police Department.

May his life long “Journey to Justice" bring him to his final reward.

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