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Immigration Lawyer Takes Center Stage in New Movie

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on February 28, 2019 10:28 AM

"Saint Judy," opening in theaters now, is an inspirational tale about an immigration lawyer.

It's a true story, stranger than fiction. Attorney Judy Wood seeks asylum for an Afghani woman, who faces death by honor-killing in her native country for leading women in the streets without men.

It's also unusual to call a lawyer "a saint," but that's how the screenwriter saw it. Dmitry Portnoy, the writer, said the real-life lawyer changed his life.

The Lawyer

Portnoy wrote more than a dozen scripts, but gave up because he couldn't sell them. He decided then to go to law school, and Wood gave him an internship during his first year.

"She told me later she was looking for a storyteller because a good lawyer has to make the life of her client vivid and compelling for the judge," he told the Los Angeles Times.

One day, they drove to a detention camp to see a client. The desert setting -- with a lawyer meeting with a client outside a double-wide trailer -- became a key location for the movie.

Wood ultimately wins a landmark case, giving women grounds for asylum based on political activity.

The Writer

Portnoy went to Pepperdine School of Law to study law, but emerged with inspiration for his movie. The story spoke to him because he also fled his country for refuge in the United States.

He and his family left the Soviet Union in 1979, joining an exodus of people escaping Communist persecution. They finally found their way to Los Angeles.

"I feel like what makes America great is that it's given so many people a home," he said. "It gave a home to me."

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