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Movies, Politics, Tort Reform

InJustice: Tort Reform’s High Cost Documentary Infomercial

In Above the Law’s last film review, we spoke about Hot Coffee, a documentary film about the evils of tort reform in America. The film, which received rave reviews from publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post, was produced by former trial lawyer Susan Saladoff.

Now, just two weeks later, InJustice, a documentary film that is being hailed as the “anti Hot Coffee,” made its small screen debut on the ReelzChannel — a channel I’d never heard of and do not receive. Luckily enough, in the two weeks since we reviewed Hot Coffee, I had earned enough street cred to get an advance copy of the film.

While Hot Coffee presented the plaintiff’s side of the tort reform debate, InJustice attempts to present the defendant’s side in a more favorable light by exposing the evils of lawsuit abuse and the greed of attorneys involved in “America’s lawsuit industry.” Those are some pretty high aspirations for the film’s producer, non-lawyer Brian Kelly.

All that being said, I have no idea why I waited to release my review of InJustice until after the film had aired, because I’m not sure if anyone was even able to watch it. And if they had been able to do so, I’m pretty sure they would have changed the channel pretty quickly….

While Hot Coffee has been called a “must-see movie” by everyone and their mother (and probably their dog, too), InJustice hasn’t been called much of anything by anyone of particular importance. Except ChamberPost, the business blog of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Did I mention that the film was funded in part by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce? Check out the trailer here:

InJustice offers a look into the seedy and scam-filled world of the “kings of tort,” one of whom is actually the subject of our keynote address at this year’s Legal Technology Leadership Summit: Dickie Scruggs. Scruggs was once quoted as stating that “litigation is a three-legged stool: one leg is the law, one leg is politics, and one leg is public relations.”

Unlike Hot Coffee, where trial lawyers are portrayed as champions of the people, Kelly uses the Scruggs analogy in InJustice to portray trial lawyers as greedy, manipulative, and unjust. In this film, lawyers don’t help plaintiffs; instead, they just help themselves. Also unlike Hot Coffee, which was actually enjoyable to watch because it was humorous, InJustice was a little bit more like an infomercial.

I usually don’t mind infomercials — they’re how I became a proud Bumpits owner. But I just didn’t want to buy the product being pimped in the one that Kelly produced. It probably didn’t help that, as stated above, InJustice was partially funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group known for promoting the interests of big businesses. The film seemed incredibly skewed to me, much like Hot Coffee.

I spoke with Kelly prior to watching the film, and asked him about the differences between the two documentaries. He said:

Fundamentally, the difference between Hot Coffee and InJustice is that InJustice focuses on something that I feel transcends the politics of the issues at hand. There is really nothing to debate or examine other than how does something like this happen? The film looks inside a series of cases within the civil justice system where lawyers were able to perpetrate massive frauds upon the court, lie to judges, manufacture cases and commit crimes solely for their own financial benefit. We do not debate the size of judgments, the right and wrong of product liability, et cetera. We are looking at something that comes down to the most basic of legal principles: right v. wrong, Justice v. InJustice.

But, if Kelly had truly wanted to “transcend the politics of the issues at hand,” he wouldn’t have allowed his prior bad experiences with the legal system to get in the way. In an interview with the Blog of Legal Times, it was revealed that Kelly was motivated to produce InJustice due, in part, to an $80,000 loss in the courts.

You know what? I’d be pretty pissed off if I lost that much money. $80K would pay off a huge chunk of my loans. Apparently Kelly was so pissed off that he produced a movie over it. Maybe he has loans, too. You mad, bro?

And speaking of being mad, I am mad, bro. In my review of Hot Coffee, I mentioned that I had some doubts as to Saladoff’s motivation for producing such a film. After all, she is a former trial lawyer, and while plaintiffs may benefit from the overarching message of her anti-tort reform propaganda, trial lawyers stand to benefit even more so.

Apparently, that view caught the attention of Hamilton Place Strategies, a company working with Kelly to promote InJustice. Abnormal Use had a similar view in its discussion of Hot Coffee, and they, too, were contacted by Hamilton Place Strategies. Except they did the research that I didn’t (what else is new?):

Indeed, we here at Abnormal Use were initially contacted about the film by a Washington, DC consulting firm, Hamilton Place Strategies. On its website, Hamilton Place bills itself as a bipartisan policy and communications firm, an odd entity to be promoting a television documentary film. The firm’s public policy advisory unit, HPS Insight, was founded by two alumni of the George W. Bush administration. Further, that firm’s partners include members of President George W. Bush’s staff and advisers to Senator John McCain and Representative Paul Ryan. If the firm has any members affiliated with the Democratic Party or more liberal groups, it was not readily apparent on the website.

Both documentaries were biased in their own way, but the real difference between the two was simple watchability — and I think I hit pause about 15 times throughout the course of InJustice in a futile attempt to see how much longer I’d have to watch it. InJustice didn’t convince me that we need to “stop the madness of tort lawyers,” although many fans on the film’s Facebook page are now believers.

The real injustice here is that I had to sit through the entirety of the movie so I could write this review.

InJustice: Real “Reality TV” Exposing America’s Lawsuit Crisis [ChamberPost]
Film Review: Brian J. Kelly’s “InJustice” Documentary [Abnormal Use]
Movie Critical of Trial Lawyers Is Set for Debut [Blog of Legal Times]

Earlier: Previous ATL coverage of tort reform issues

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