I recently watched a very good 1982 movie entitled The Verdict in which Paul Newman plays the part of washed up accident attorney Frank Galvin, a man who had a great future in the legal profession before being accused of jury tampering. In the movie, his fellow lawyer friend, played by Jack Warden, throws him a "bone" of a case which the defendants are willing to settle out of court for a sizable sum. The case involves a young woman who was placed in a vegetative state after anesthesia caused her to aspirate during childbirth.
The principal defendant is a prominent Boston doctor (anesthesiologist) working out of one of the Archdiocese of Boston's best hospitals and their lead attorney is one of the best in the business, played by James Mason. Galvin is scheduled to meet and settle but first decides to visit the comatose woman in a hospital where she is given minimal care. He is personally deeply touched by what he finds and refuses to agree to the out of court settlement, feeling that the family which wants to see the poor woman get quality care for whatever life she will have, deserves much more. The family is, however, very upset with Galvin for not settling since they know that a jury trial against such powerful people is not an easy thing to accomplish.
The deck looks stacked against Galvin, even the judge appears openly hostile to his cause and the defense is ahead of him at every turn. But finally he gets a break when he finds the one former hospital employee who can put the truth on the table, the admitting nurse who prepared the paperwork detailing the condition of the patient prior to surgery. Of utmost importance was the time of the patient's last meal, for the general anesthetic used required a nine hour delay before surgery after eating. The former nurse said it was only one hour in reality.
As the trial is drawing to a close, Galvin calls his special witness and she tells the court that she annotated the admission form with the one hour since eating check off, despite the court evidence showing nine hours. She even provided her personal copy of the form which she had kept, since she had been asked to support the defendant at the time of the surgery. She lost her job because she would not go along with falsifying her story or document for the anesthesiologist.
The defense attorney, however, enters a motion to dismiss the testimony and the copied form, saying that the court records were intact and that any new copy could easily have been falsified. The judge concurs and throws out the evidence and orders the jury to disregard the nurse's testimony.
But Galvin saves the day and his case with his summation. He talks about a higher law than our legal system, a moral law which requires us to do the right thing when we know it is the truth. He urges the jury to very carefully weigh what has been said and make the right moral choice, for sometimes the law, while meaning well, can be wrong.
In the end, the jury agrees with Galvin and finds for the plaintiff, also asking the judge what limitations there are on the award they recommend. The judge finally says that it is whatever figure they deem fair under the circumstances.
Galvin has won. The down and out lawyer has redeemed himself and in so doing has given the family of the poor comatose woman the opportunity to insure that she will receive the best care possible under the horrible condition faced. And while he will make a lot of money for his efforts, he gave up a guaranteed sure thing which was significant, for a long shot chance based on doing what was right, not easy.
And I think the story of the movie plays right in to the scripture verse cited at the beginning of this commentary from Paul's letter to the Galatians. God allows man to create laws, for laws are necessary to maintain order in an earthly society. But sometimes man's laws get it wrong and in such cases we need to look at the ultimate authority for all laws, God, to do what is right. That is what fictitious attorney Frank Galvin did in The Witness. That is what we are expected to do in our lives as well. We follow man's laws, but when they are contrary to the laws that God has given us which subordinate all other things in their righteousness, we must do the right thing.
God bless you all.