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3 Great Movie Judges

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on May 15, 2015 1:03 PM

Nerds around the world rejoiced at the news that Natalie Portman would play Justice Ginsburg in a biopic about Ginsburg's extraordinary life.

That got us to wondering about judges in movies. They're fairly common -- every dramatic courtroom scene needs a judge, after all -- so who are some of the great judges in movies?

Judge Dredd -- "Judge Dredd"

Of course he is. And we're not talking about the 2012 Karl Urban reboot; we're talking about the original 1995 action extravaganza starring Sylvester Stallone as law enforcement in a dystopian future. Judge Dredd was a great judge -- although we use the term loosely, since "judges" in the future act as judge, jury, and, if necessary, executioner.

Dredd at least becomes empathetic when he's framed for murder and has to clear his name. There's a giant killer robot and it's the last good movie you saw Rob Schneider in. Armand Assante brings so much ham to his performance, you'd think he was operating a deli. And there's no beating Dredd's reaction every time a suspect pleads not guilty: "I knew you'd say that!"

Judge Chamberlain Haller -- "My Cousin Vinny"

In one of Fred Gwynne's last -- and greatest -- roles, he departed from Herman Munster and played an erudite, small-town Alabama judge who was having none of Joe Pesci's big-city shenanigans. He doesn't like the way Joe Pesci's Vinny Gambini dresses; he doesn't like the way he talks ("two yutes?"); and he gets increasingly suspicious that he might not even be a lawyer (which is true -- Vinny hasn't passed the bar exam yet).

In the end, though, Chamberlain Haller learns to respect Vinny and his unorthodox techniques -- with a little help from Marissa Tomei's scheming to cover up the fact that Vinny isn't actually licensed. (Is that why she got that Oscar?)

Judge Henry X. Harper -- "Miracle on 34th Street"

Don't know him by name? How about "the judge from 'Miracle on 34th Street'"? Judge Harper presides over a hearing, in the middle of a Christmas movie, that will decide whether Kris Kringle is crazy. Kringle's lawyer (and roommate) comes up with a brilliant strategy: If the Post Office delivers all of its "Santa Claus" letters to Kringle, then it must consider him to be Santa Claus, and if the government considers him to be Santa Claus, who is Harper to argue?

This 1947 film isn't entirely without cynicism: Harper is up for reelection, and his campaign manager is concerned that putting Santa Claus in the asylum won't bode well for his chances. That's how we end up with the famous scene in which mailmen dump piles of envelopes addressed to Santa on the bench: Harper doesn't want to immediately, and unilaterally, rule that Kris Kringle is nuts without a hearing first.

Who is your favorite judge? Tweet us suggestions: @FindLawLP.

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