Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Is Borat Bad for Lawyers?

Borat made more legal news this week, first as a court denied the request for an injunction by the two South Carolina fraternity brother plaintiffs. No great surprise there, given the waivers and the free speech defense. Meanwhile, earlier today, another South Carolina man sued over a scene that did not make the final cut of the film but was floating around the internet, and which I include here. The plaintiff claims that he was humiliated both by the original encounter and by the publicity it subsequently received. (He is not identifiable in the version I've posted, although for all I know, even this version may soon be scrubbed from Google Videos.)

In following the lawsuits and the public reaction to them, I can't help but think that Borat is likely to reinforce negative views about plaintiffs, lawyers and our civil justice system. The overwhelming reaction of the public goes something like this: "Oh, come on. Lighten up. Borat didn't make you say or do anything that didn't come from you. And you signed the waiver."

That may well be a sensible reaction with respect to the Borat suits--although whether or not it is would depend on the facts of each case--but it reinforces a generally negative stereotype of civil plaintiffs, who, many people think, should just tough it out like the rest of us. Interestingly, this corporate-defendant-friendly view is generally NOT the view of most Americans when they actually sit as jurors, but in thinking about the civil justice system in general terms, people tend not to be very sympathetic to plaintiffs and are especially unsympathetic to the plaintiffs' bar

10 comments:

Derek said...

The guy seems to come off okay in this clip, although I couldn't hear what was bleeped out. Any idea what happens in the unedited version?

You're probably right that Borat isn't providing great PR for the civil justice system. Although when I saw the movie a number of people remarked they were surprised Cohen was legally able to get away with the general project. It's interesting that, when faced with individual cases, people seem so dismissive.

I guess a partial explanation must be that the plaintiffs offer such an unsympathetic first impression in the movie itself. No one wants to root for the racist frat boys, whether or not they have a legitimate legal claim.

Michael C. Dorf said...

The stories I read indicated that the version on YouTube was not bleeped out and made the man identifiable, but YouTube has taken it down.

Craig J. Albert said...

There's a reason for why the view of plaintiffs/defendants changes when you're on a jury. The truly frivolous cases have been (mostly) dismissed, the clear liability/clear damages cases have been settled, and what's left are those cases in which there's a genuine issue of fact, and/or the parties differ on their interpretation of the consequences of the facts. So, the cases that jurors see in the courtroom are substantially different from the ones that they read about in "America's Stupidest Lawsuits". Indeed, my guess would be that real jurors would tend to err in favor of the plaintiff's side because the plaintiff who survives pre-trial motion practice looks like he has a much stronger case than the average filed complaint that the general population reads about in the newspaper.

By the way, I have yet to see a published version of the contract that Cohen's production company presented to these various bigots, imbeciles, lunatics and drunks, and I'd like to see it. And I note further that while imbeciles, lunatics and drunks have capacity/formation defenses available to them, those who are bigots (only) don't.

Anonymous said...

TMZ.com obtained a difficult-to-read copy of the release signed by the aforementioned bigots, imbeciles, and drunks, in addition to various ignorant rodeo participants.


TMZ.com

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