A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

The Arts

“Before Midnight” – After Jesse’s Divorce

By Noah Forrest

The premise is deceptively simple.

American boy meets French girl on a train.  Boy and girl spend an enchanted night together in Vienna.  Boy and girl agree to meet up in six months without exchanging numbers.  They don’t.

Nine years later: older boy and older girl meet again in Paris..  Boy is separated from his wife; together, they have a son in the U.S.  Boy and girl’s spark is reignited. Boy misses his plane back home.

Nine years after that: man and woman, now married with children, vacationing on a beautiful patch of Grecian coastline with their family.  Man and woman struggle to connect in ways that were once so easy.

Richard Linklater’s trilogy of films (plus a brief appearance of the protagonists in “Waking Life”) starring Ethan Hawke (“Jesse”) and Julie Delpy (“Celine”) are probably the finest exploration of love over time since Francois Truffaut’s “Antoine Doinel” series.

“Before Midnight,” the third in the series of films (after “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”) hit theaters earlier this summer and will hit DVD and Blu-ray on October 22.  By its nature, this installment is the darkest and least conventionally “romantic” of the three films, as well as the deepest.

Yet in many ways, this is the most romantic film of the series precisely because it’s about the reality of what happens after most films fade out.  Things are messy.  The last half of the film is essentially one long fight between the couple we’ve adored for the last two decades and it is excruciating and exacting.  Nothing is off the table in this row, whether it’s their two young girls or Jesse’s ex-wife or the teenage progeny of that now defunct marriage, Hank.

It’s that last part that intrigued me from a legal perspective.

Apparently, during the nine years between the second and third films, Celine and Jesse lived in New York for two years; Jesse’s ex-wife and Hank lived there, too, and it seems that Jesse and his ex-wife shared custody of their child.  But things changed when, late in Celine’s pregnancy, Jesse and Celine traveled to Paris so Celine could be near her parents during the “complicated” birth of their twins. Sometime during this period, Jesse’s ex-wife moved Hank to Chicago.  As Celine was recovering, Jesse’s ex-wife petitioned an Illinois court for, and was granted, full custody.

Or to put it another way: Man’s first wife moves her son from New York to Chicago and is granted primary custody when Man is helping second wife recover from a complicated delivery in Paris.

Sure, I loved the film. But I did wonder.  Is what Jesse’s ex did kosher? Does Jesse have any options to try to regain joint custody?  LASIS investigates.

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Hands Off “Short Term 12”

By Noah Forrest

Short Term 12” is one of the best films of the year.

In theaters now, writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton’s second feature is a gripping, emotional, and knowing glimpse into the complex relationship between foster kids in a group home and the (not much older) adults who provide much of their care.  It is rare these days for a movie to give us a dramatic (but not melodramatic) and affecting (but not affected) narrative about young people grappling with real issues that have little do with whether or not they will save the world from robot aliens.

Grace (Brie Larson in a tour de force performance that should win all the awards) is the head caretaker at a group home for foster children who are in her charge for a host of reasons.  There are three other caregivers, including her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr. of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” also excellent), and together, they deal with the day-to-day issues that arise when you place a dozen young, troubled people of varying ages in a dormitory-like setting.  The early to mid-20s caregivers are not nurses or doctors or teachers, but they are expected to be parents, friends, janitors, guardians, dispensers of medicine and advice — and to mete out punishment when it is called for.

In some scenes, Grace and Mason (and other staff) are quite physical with their minor-age wards, restraining their wards who have violent outbursts that include spitting, hitting, and slamming doors.

Yet at one point in the film, while explaining the ropes to a new caretaker, Mason states matter-of-factly that if a child sets even one foot off the property the group home rests on, then all they can do is try to reason and cajole the kids back into their care.  The staff cannot physically bring them back; they, according to the film, are not allowed to lay hands on them once they are off the property.

This gave me pause.

It’s undisputed that most critics fell in love with the film, but how many movie critics are also lawyers, fixated about perplexing legal questions raised?

That’s me.  Law student by day; movie critic the rest of the time.

And here’s my question: If caretakers can restrain the minors while they’re on the property, why the big change once they get one step away?

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To Sleep, Perchance To…Murder?

By Nicole Rowlands

Think of the oddest thing you’ve ever done in your sleep. Perhaps you’ve murmured. Babbled. Yelled. Maybe you’ve even sleepwalked.

But I bet you didn’t climb a 13-story crane like a teenage girl did in London in 2005, only to be found later curled up fast asleep on the crane by a passerby. And you probably didn’t jump out of a four-story building – found hours later still sleeping. Even a broken arm and leg didn’t wake up this 17-year-old boy from Demmin, Germany. And I know you never had “sleep sex” like the middle-aged married woman in Australia in 2004 who frequently left her home and had sex with random strangers. (I’m not sure this woman was really sleeping, actually, but her husband seemed to believe her).

Destructive and unpredictable behavior has been known to happen during an otherwise good night’s rest. Take homicidal somnambulism, for example, the medical term for committing or attempting to commit murder in one’s sleep.

A recent film, “Side Effects”, directed by Steven Soderbergh, centers on a woman who kills her husband while sleepwalking, in an apparent reaction to a medication she was prescribed by her psychiatrist.

Emily Taylor (played by Rooney Mara) and her husband Martin (played by Channing Tatum) are finally reunited after his four-year prison term for insider trading. But things are not the same as they were before his arrest. Whereas Emily is seen in flashbacks as playful and full of life, she is now listless and depressed. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (played by Jude Law) prescribes Zoloft but when that doesn’t work, he proposes a new antidepressant, Ablixa (that only exists for the purposes of the film). Her life (and sex life) are clearly reinvigorated, and though she has some episodes of sleepwalking, it’s nothing that Dr. Banks is too concerned about.

Until Emily stabs her husband while in her sleep.

That people commit murder in their sleep – and then get away with it at trial – is discussed as fact in the film.  Is that true?  LASIS investigated and found: it sure is.

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Chief Justice Roberts and “The Oath”

By Gillad Matiteyahu

Back in 2009, before I entered law school, I read “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court”, by Jeffrey Toobin. At the time, reading about the behind-the-scenes workings of the legal world’s most powerful individuals reinforced my interest in going to law school. So, when Mr. Toobin’s next book came out — “The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court” — I was eager to read it.

While I wouldn’t recommend “The Oath” with the same passion as I would “The Nine”, I believe it would interest anyone curious about Supreme Court politics. Mr. Toobin’s new work sheds light on many little-known facts surrounding the major decisions of the Roberts Court.

The book begins by focusing on two Harvard Law graduates: Chief Justice John Roberts and President Barrack Obama. In preparation for the oath of office ceremony in 2009, the Chief Justice’s administrative aides contacted the Obama administration to determine the precise words, the pace, and the intonations of the oath. But these communications never reached President Obama himself. Mr. Toobin writes that President Obama’s staffers “either never noticed the PDF, lost it, ignored it, or forgot about it.” As a result, when the time to administer the oath arrived, neither President Obama nor Chief Justice Roberts were on the same page and the oath was noticeably botched on national television.

A day later, the President’s legal advisors suggested that, “out of an abundance of caution,” the oath be administered again. The redo took place in the White House Map Room and proceeded smoothly. It is on this image, with President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts standing in front of the Map Room fireplace, that Mr. Toobin pauses to compare the two men. While they shared a common background — Harvard Law School and Law Review — and possess similar characteristics — “powerful intellect and considerable charm” — their respective life experiences led each of them to different beliefs about the Constitution and the Supreme Court.  And these differences are surprising to those of us who think of Chief Justice Roberts as a conservative, and President Obama as an agent of change.

Mr. Toobin writes: “[I]n this crucial realm, the roles of the two men were the opposite of what was widely believed. It was John Roberts who was determined to use his position as chief justice as an apostle of change. He was the one who wanted to usher in a new understanding of the Constitution, with dramatic implications for both the law and the larger society. And it was Barack Obama who was determined to hold on to an older version of the meaning of the Constitution.”

“The Oath” proceeds to focus on the evolution of the Roberts Court beginning with Chief Justice Roberts’ first term when his talent for negotiation and compromise brought the percentage of unanimous decisions up from one-third to an astonishing 45 percent. Unfortunately, this “era of good feeling” was short lived. The rest of the book tells the story of the three major constitutional issues addressed by the Roberts Court: gun control, campaign finance, and the Affordable Care Act.

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Sotomayor, Rosenbaum, and Three José’s

By José I. Ortiz

I’ve met my fair share of celebrities back home in Puerto Rico. It seems that you can’t fling a chancleta without hitting a politician, musician or actor on the island. So, I think I have had enough experiences to be able to say that I do not get star-struck. But, when I attended one of 92nd Street Y’s Talks events featuring a conversation between Thane Rosenbaum and Justice Sonia Sotomayor my anti-star-struck streak was over.

As she walked out onto the stage – after being introduced by Professor Rosenbaum to this packed Upper East Side theater, I saw a Puerto Rican woman calmly making her way to a chair on stage with a warm smile on her face.  She sported a bright yet elegant turquoise top. And she seemed to me like any one of my aunts. For a moment, I felt like I was at a family Christmas gathering and that I could walk up to her, giver her a kiss on the cheek and (as we do with all of our elders) ask her for a blessing, bendición.

This very personal side to Justice Sotomayor seems to be what she hopes to share with anyone who would pick up her new book, “My Beloved World”. Appropriately available in both English and Spanish (Mi Mundo Adorado), her book is near the New York Times Best Sellers List in the non-fiction hardcover category. The New York Times’ review says that it seems Justice Sotomayor has “mastered the art of narrative.” I’m reading the book myself and so far, I wholeheartedly agree.

Justice Sotomayor’s stated mission is to bring hope to those who feel life’s circumstances are stacked against them. (Her speaking tour is undoubtedly working wonders for book sales, as well. But, I won’t go down that cynical road.) The fact is that this Supreme Court justice is different. All of a sudden this salsa-dancing, Spanish-speaking judge is giving a rock-star feel to the black robes and mahogany desks. She summed up her experience dancing salsa with Jorge Ramos (Univision’s Latin version of Anderson Cooper) by saying that he was atrevido.  Not quite Felix Frankfurter’s style.  Or any other justice’s, for that matter.

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