Blackmun’s Film Debut
Amistad chronicles the rebellion in 1839 of 53 African slaves aboard the Caribbean-bound Spanish slave ship, Amistad, and the ensuing U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Amistad. Justice Blackmun plays his predecessor on the Court, Justice Joseph Story, who presided over the case. (Fittingly, during his tenure on the Court, from 1970 to 1994, Blackmun occupied the seat that Story held from 1812 to 1845. Story was also the first Dane Professor of Law at the School.)
After the slaves seized the ship on July 1, 1839, they demanded that their captors head back to Africa. But the Amistad wound up off the coast of Montauk Point, Long Island, where it was spotted by a U.S. Navy ship. The slaves were taken to New Haven and charged with the murder of the ship’s captain and cook. The U.S. district court in Hartford ruled that they were being held illegally and were not liable for criminal acts committed in attempts to gain their freedom. President Martin Van Buren insisted that the case be appealed to U.S. Supreme Court, where Story upheld the lower court’s opinion.
In his cameo appearance, Blackmun reads Story’s 1841 decision ruling that the slaves should be freed and returned home. Former President John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) and young lawyer Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) argue on the slaves’ behalf, and Morgan Freeman plays the leader of New England’s growing abolitionist movement, which raised money for their defense.
Justice Blackmun is "honored," he says, to be in "Mr. Spielberg’s significant film about our nation’s struggle with slavery."
- Nancy Waring
Deconstructing an Airline Disaster
Kreindler has been successfully litigating airline disaster cases on behalf of the victims since 1952, when Kreindler & Kreindler meant Lee and his father, Harry. (Now, Lee’s son, James, is a partner.) On his first aviation case, the 28-year-old showed such a passion for pursuing complex engineering puzzles to their solution that his father—"a well-known trial lawyer," says Kreindler, "and a wonderful man"—told him, "No case will ever reward the kind of effort you’re putting into this one."
Having secured $500 million in passenger claims in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103, Kreindler confidently countered the prevailing wisdom about the crash of TWA 800. "The Lockerbie bomb brought Pan Am 103 down because it exploded at 32,000 feet in high winds," he says. "It punched a small hole in the fuselage, and that permitted the winds to tear the structure apart. TWA 800 exploded at 13,700 feet in calm weather. It would have taken a huge bomb to bring that plane down, and the larger the bomb, the more difficult it is to smuggle onto a plane. So we felt from the very beginning that we were looking at mechanical or structural failure."
The National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI have spent $26 million to approach the same conclusion, though few beyond the plaintiffs’ lawyers are concluding anything just yet. But this past June, after Kreindler’s firm—which represents a majority of the families suing for damages in the disaster—released its report about the faulty pumps, Boeing issued a service bulletin requiring an unprecedented inspection of the nearly 1,200 747s in its fleet. "I wouldn’t be surprised if in time Boeing admits responsibility," says Kreindler, "and we will have played a major role in focusing on the truth."
Patrolling the Information Superhighway
The founder of Brown & Bain in Phoenix, Ariz., and an authority on intellectual property rights and high-tech legal issues, Brown began his career at the dawn of the computer age, when room-sized behemoths ran Paleolithic programs. In the intervening 40 years, his level of expertise has accelerated alongside the development of computer technology.
Beginning in 1988, Brown represented Apple in Apple Computer, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., a case in which he argued that Microsoft had appropriated the "look and feel" of Apple’s Macintosh operating system for Microsoft’s Windows 2.03 and 3.0 programs. Several long delays permitted "the tide to turn against copyright protections," says Brown. "In 1991 a case in New York effectively eviscerated copyright law for computer programs." As a result, the Apple case never went to trial.
Arguments against the protection of computer programs rest on finely articulated differences between an "idea," which cannot be protected legally, and the idea’s "creative expression," which can, Brown explains. Microsoft contended that more than 90 percent of the components of the Macintosh interface were licensed to Microsoft for Windows 1.0 in 1985, and that Microsoft then utilized these components to create its later versions. "It’s like determining that a Picasso is not a unique work of art since it can be broken down into a lot of colors and shapes that reside in the public domain," says Brown.
The fact that legal protections pertaining to creative works were not applied to computer programs in the United States did not prevent the government from seeking these protections abroad. "U.S. diplomats," Brown continues, "have gone all over the world successfully persuading other countries to put a provision in their law that says computer programs shall be treated as literary works under their prospective copyright laws. But we undercut that position at home." Brown thinks that eventually U.S. courts will have to reevaluate copyright laws as they relate to computer technology.
Having stood as a vigilant force for order on the shadowy frontier of high-tech law, Brown is well positioned to navigate the even murkier region of cyberspace, which poses profound questions for constitutional law. For one, he is closely following the debate between the demand for the right to publish anonymously on the Internet versus "the counter-demand to hold responsible those who disseminate speech that is false and defamatory or that incites hatred and violence." And advertising and merchandising on the Net will be a much bigger issue in the future, he observes, since that’s where the money will be made. In fact, Brown will argue in his next case that Ticketmaster’s Website was misappropriated for advertising and marketing purposes. His adversary? Once again, the industry giant, Microsoft.
- Janet Hawkins
The Case of a Courageous Judge
In May, acting on a motion to suppress electronic surveillance evidence in a major RICO case, Wolf ordered a resistant Department of Justice to disclose whether James "Whitey" Bulger, a fugitive defendant in the case, and Angelo "Sonny" Mercurio, a former fugitive in a related Mafia case, were actually FBI informants rather than targets of investigation—as they had been characterized in government applications for court authorization of wiretaps and bugs. The Department of Justice ultimately acknowledged that Bulger had been an FBI informant and that, furthermore, a recent review indicated Bulger was at least tacitly authorized to participate in Mafia policymaking—one of the major charges against him.
After the Department of Justice refused to disclose Mercurio’s status, he revealed during questioning by Wolf that he had been an FBI informant in connection with a 1989 Mafia induction ceremony (described by some as "a scene out of The Godfather"), which federal agents intercepted in wiretaps. Mercurio fled shortly before he was charged with participating in the ceremony.
The intercepted Mafia ceremony, which Wolf refused to suppress in a prior case, helped to convict Raymond Patriarca, the Boss of the New England family of La Cosa Nostra, and many other organized crime figures. Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, one of the other defendants in the present case, also disclosed that he had been an FBI informant, and claimed that he, Bulger, and Mercurio had been tipped off concerning their forthcoming indictments so they could flee rather than face the charges. The current case has attracted national attention and has wide implications for the use of government informants. The defense has filed motions to dismiss the case in addition to its motions to suppress electronic surveillance evidence.
"It is very much a landmark case," says HLS Professor Alan Dershowitz, who plans to teach the case in his legal ethics course this fall. "It is also very much a case of a courageous judge, who was himself a prosecutor, holding prosecutors to the same standards that all lawyers must satisfy." Wolf was appointed to the federal bench in 1985. A 1984 recipient of the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award for his prosecution of public corruption in Massachusetts, Wolf is knowledgeable about the use of informants in law enforcement. In fact, earlier in his career, as a special assistant to Attorney General Edward Levi, he helped write Department of Justice guidelines on their use.
In the case before him, Wolf found that the defense raised substantial questions regarding whether the government engaged in serious misconduct. Embarking on the evidentiary hearings necessary to resolve those questions, Wolf stated in court this summer that at this point, "This whole case is about the credibility of what the United States tells federal judges."
- Molly Colin
A Revolutionary Brewer
"I set out to create a revolution in American beer, to show American beer drinkers that a small American brewer could make world-class American beer," says Koch, a sixth-generation brewer, who uses a family recipe for Samuel Adams beer.
Koch’s company is now the tenth biggest brewer in the United States. Sales have increased steadily at a rate of 25 percent to 65 percent per year. The company went public in 1995, and its stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Time magazine named Samuel Adams "Best Beer of the Decade" in its 1990 New Year’s issue. BBC’s brews are available in all 50 states and in Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, and Hong Kong.
But Koch’s success has not been without incident. Last year his company was the subject of attack advertisements by Anheuser-Busch, producer of about 50 percent of America’s beer, including the market leader, Budweiser. Anheuser-Busch accused BBC of misleading consumers by claiming its beer is produced by a local brewery when, Anheuser-Busch alleged, it actually is produced by contract brewers throughout the country. BBC filed a complaint against Anheuser-Busch about the ads with the Better Business Bureau, and after one of the longest cases in its history, the Bureau ruled in April in favor of BBC, calling the Anheuser-Busch ads inaccurate and unfounded. Did Koch’s legal background help play a part in the victory? "If there’s one thing I learned from law school, it’s that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client," says Koch. "I knew enough to hire a lawyer."
- Michael Chmura