Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Real Life vs. the Onscreen Lawyer

(Tony Luti is a California superlawyer, and founder of The Luti Law Firm, which serves as the setting for the fictional firm in Prince of Swine).

Q: How did you become involved with the movie Prince of Swine?

Anthony Luti (founder, Luti Law Firm): Mark Toma, the writer/director walked into my office one day and asked if he could shoot a movie at my firm during our off hours.

Q: (laughing) Just like that?

AL (laughing): Pretty much.

Q: Why did he come to you?

AL: We practice the same sort of law as in the movie, Title VII, employment litigation. We’re a plaintiff’s firm, just as in the movie, and as Mark said when he first saw our offices, “This is the coolest looking law firm I’ve ever seen! Check it out! Malcolm X is on your wall!”. I guess we’ve got similar taste in d├ęcor too, he loved the color scheme for Hi-Def. Maybe not many lawyers would want a movie crew shooting in their firm or for their firm to be up on the big screen. I thought it was a blast.

Q: So give us your professional opinion, how much is the movie Prince of Swine like your real life practice?

AL: Well, I haven’t actually seen Prince of Swine yet, but as I understand it, the head of the firm is an African American attorney who wanted to blaze his own trail, his own practice, so that’s the same. They excel in a David vs. Goliath type situation, that’s the same. According to Mark, Prince of Swine has many meanings, and the characters in my firm are the Princes in the title, not the swine!

Q: Who are the swine?

AL: Again, I haven’t seen the movie, but I take it the swine of the title refers to very swinish behavior by powerful institutions or individuals, when they’re very far over the line, and think they’re above the law. They need to watch out for that, because that’s why we’re in business.

Q: So this movie is your life story?

AL (laughing): No, not really. From what I can tell, I probably would not have taken the client in the movie, if she walked into my office!

Q: Why not?

AL: We’re extremely particular about our clients. We only take a very few and in a very specific situation. The client has to have a very strong case. The Defendant has to be in the wrong legally, the facts must be clear about this, but the Defendant takes the stance, “This person is pennyless, they’re powerless, we can step on them with impunity. Go ahead, do something about it.” When I encounter that sort of blind, unethical, arrogance of power, I say to it, “Make no mistake, this case will go to trial and you will lose when it does.” If they don’t back off, my trial record speaks for itself. I’m not bluffing and they know it.

Q: How did the movie client fail that litmus test?

AL (laughing): The Defendant in Prince of Swine was way over the line, but the Plaintiff was sort of flaky and morally dubious too! Morally and legally, from what I understand, it somehow comes together in the end, but that wasn’t clear when they took the case. The facts weren’t there at the start of the case, something smelled fishy, but it wasn’t a clear enough case of wrongdoing. The young associate in the film, as I understand it, just had a very strong feeling, she pursued it and then uncovered the facts. That’s something you do if you want to make a movie that sheds light on the craziness of the system, it’s not the greatest way to win an actual lawsuit.

Q: Your cases are more airtight?

AL (laughing): Well, it’s not an interesting movie, if you know from the time the lawyer takes the case that he’s going to win, where is the suspense? It’s more than that, even though, on the surface, the movie takes place in the same legal arena, from what I understand talking to Mark, the message in the movie is something different, which, I think I might support, but in fact, it’s not my practice area in real life.

Q: Explain.

AL: I’m upholding a revolution that took place 40 years ago, I’m upholding the tradition of civil and human rights laid down by my heroes, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, amongst others. This is the law of the land now, there is no argument about it. We are living in truly miraculous times, we have an African American President now – a potentially great one, in my opinion. It makes you believe in miracles when you look back at our history, only in America. So if someone is going to treat that law with contempt, I uphold that tradition and that’s what I’m about.

Q: How is that different from the movie?

AL: It’s the same in spirit, but I think he’s interested in a different area of law. I’m taking this from talking to Mark, not from seeing the movie, but as I understand it, the harassment case in the movie is just a device used to explore the psychology, decadence, and arrogance of power, he’s not interested in making some social statement about harassment law, because it’s already settled law, what’s the point?

Q: The movie is more a metaphor for what’s going on with the country right now, or on Wall Street?

AL: That’s my educated guess. Metaphorically, artistically, that works for me as a movie, and I certainly see the same sort of arrogance of power that led to the banking collapse in my practice area every day. Maybe it’s easier to see it in employment law, because the issues are so human, everyone can understand the human dynamics and emotion of a harassment case. Part of the scandal on Wall Street, it’s so abstract, it’s so convoluted and specialized, no one can understand it in human terms, and that’s how the perpetrators got away with it.

If the movie is saying, “These forces are running out of control, they are lawless, they are destructive, they need to be brought to heel for their own good and the good of the country”, I would agree with that. When you talk about that, you’re talking about finance reform, the way the Obama administration is taking on Wall Street right now. I support that as a lawyer and an American, but finance reform is not my practice area. And it would probably make a less interesting movie too. Banking is pretty dry compared to a harassment case!

Q: It’s the same dynamic psychologically, emotionally and artistically, just a different fact pattern?

AL: Exactly. That’s not an argument I can make in court, it’s not specific enough, but it’s fascinating as a work of art. Hopefully Prince of Swine will hold up in the court of public opinion, which I think is the court we’re really trying for here.

Prince of Swine opens at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip at Crescent Heights, Memorial Day Weekend, for a limited engagement, May 28th to June 3rd.

Get tickets for Prince of Swine online at the Laemmle Sunset 5 or the Prince of Swine website http://www.princeofswine.com/ (discounts available for advance and group purchasers).

Join the Prince of Swine revolution on Twitter and Facebook.

Visit Prince of Swine at http//www.princeofswine.com.

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