September 10, 2015

The Ethics of TV's "Bad Judge"

Taylor Simpson-Wood, Barry University School of Law, has published The Rise and Fall of Bad Judge: Lady Justice is No Tramp. Here is the abstract.
Much of the fabric of the modern world is woven on the loom of popular culture. While scholars have defined pop culture differently, there is a general consensus as to its strong influence on modern society. As television has become our society's principal means of storytelling, its offerings concerning the world of lawyers have become a staple of the popular culture consumed by Americans. There is a "feedback loop" between law and popular culture which is self-perpetuating: popular culture influences the viewing public's perception of the law, which in turn affects the public's expectations, which are reinforced by the misconduct of actual members of the legal profession, which affects what the networks will portray as popular legal culture. This cause and effect scenario is the result of what might be referred to in dance parlance as the "Popular Legal Culture Two-Step." In light of the self-perpetuating nature of the Popular Legal Culture Two-Step, the burning inquiry must be whether there is any way to interrupt or ameliorate the ramifications of the relationship between law and televised legal popular culture in instances where what is broadcast defaces the law as an honorable profession. The urgency of addressing this query was highlighted with the airing of a new series during the fall of 2014, Bad Judge. Bad Judge serves as a prototype for the type of legal shows which television should not be broadcasting and is a perfect platform on which to illustrate the harm which may result from the cultivation effect. To delve a bit deeper into the underpinnings of the Popular Legal Culture Two-Step put forth in this piece, Part II of the article discusses the "cultivation theory," "heuristic processing", and the cultivation process known as "resonance," the lynchpins for the premise that television viewing does affect the viewer's perception of reality. It also examines the influence of "resonance" in the context of both "syndi-court" shows and actual incidents of judicial misconduct. Part III critiques a number of episodes of Bad Judge and evaluates the actions and conduct of Judge Rebecca Wright in light California's Canons of Judicial Ethics. It also focuses upon a written entreaty to NBC made by the Miami-Dade chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers requesting cancellation of the show. Finally, the article explores possible responses to the demeaning portrayal of the judicial system and female judges and attorneys conveyed in Bad Judge in order to ameliorate the influence of television's cultivation of viewer perceptions of the legal world and to prevent such perceptions from becoming viewer reality.
Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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