“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” quipped Martin Mull, summing up in eight words the difficulties and frustrations (and perhaps questionable merit) of trying to adequately convey the nature of a song in written language. I’ve been reviewing music for about a decade now, and it is a never-ending struggle; there is simply no smooth conversion from sound to text. In the realm of intellectual-property law, this constant challenge for critics becomes the occasional burden for the federal judiciary – as Fourth Circuit Judge Pamela Harris recently discovered in resolving a headline-making copyright case involving two pop mega-stars.
The Wire in the (Fourth) Circuit: Civil Rights Claims Proceed Against Police Who Inspired David Simon Characters
On September 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion in Owens v. Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office et al., largely vacating a lower court’s dismissal of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action brought by James Owens seeking damages for wrongful conduct by Baltimore City police officers and an assistant state’s attorney that, Owens alleges, resulted in his spending more than two decades in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. If Owens can prove his allegations of intentional suppression of exculpatory evidence by police, it will be a tremendous black eye for the Baltimore City Police Department and perhaps in particular for Jay Landsman, a former BCPD detective sergeant who lent his name to a character in HBO’s The Wire and who also acted in that series.
David Lat of Above the Law was kind enough to send me an advance copy of his novel, Supreme Ambitions. I face a difficult task at the outset: Judge Richard Kopf’s review at Hercules and the Umpire covered most of the bases already. So much in fact that I encourage you to read his review first and to consider this post a follow-up in the same conversation.
To get the obligatory plot summary out the way, below is the book jacket summary from Amazon:
Supreme Ambitions details the rise of Audrey Coyne, a recent Yale Law School graduate who dreams of clerking for the U.S. Supreme Court someday. Audrey moves to California to clerk for Judge Christina Wong Stinson, a highly regarded appeals-court judge who is Audrey’s ticket to a Supreme Court clerkship. While working for the powerful and driven Judge Stinson, Audrey discovers that high ambitions come with a high price. Toss in some headline-making cases, a little romance, and a pesky judicial gossip blog, and you have a legal novel with the inside scoop you’d expect from the founder of Above the Law, one of the nation’s most widely read and influential legal websites.
Saying more risks spoilers. The plot has many twists and turns – some of them unexpected, some of them telegraphed, but, critically, all of them making narrative sense. Supreme Ambitions is a legitimate page-turner. Lat knows the story he wants to tell, and he tells it well. He makes no secret of the themes he wants to convey, and he conveys them effectively. Overall, it’s smashing success. Read More…
Welcome to Appellate Reviews, where appellate judges experienced in reviewing others’ opinions apply that skill to others’ reviews of popular culture. We’ll begin with our top court’s top movie buff, Judge Harrell. We hope that over time this series will branch out to other judges and other genres.
Review Under Review: 1 star (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)
Representative Quote: “Why is The Lone Ranger such a huge flop at the box-office? … Because the movie sucks, that’s why.”
Ruling on Appeal: Reversed. Read More…