Director Brian Kelly knows his new film “InJustice” arrives with plenty of political baggage.
“InJustice,” airing at 10 p.m. EST July 11 on ReelzChannel, blasts class action lawsuit abuse, the bane of the tort reform movement.
“We did reality checks [during filming]. ‘Are we doing a political film?” Kelly says. “We tried everything we could to prevent a political message.“
But when he looked at jailed class action lawyers like Dickie Scruggs, and how cowering companies did the bidding of trial attorneys, he felt his film’s message rose above partisan bickering.
“I don’t care what your politics are, you’ve got to say, ‘that’s wrong,’ or say, ‘how does this happen?’” he says. “If that leans toward tort reform, so be it.”
“InJustice,” backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, looks at how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 eventually led to systemic abuses in the legal system never imagined by those who crafted that landmark legislation.
From tobacco settlements to shakedown artists in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, these legal land mines are enriching the trial lawyer industry while endangering the fiscal health of companies of all stripes, guilty or innocent.
Kelly, a 25-year veteran of television and independent film projects, understands the biases in his industry in telling his tale.
“This is the kind of film HBO wouldn’t do,” he says of a channel which routinely broadcasts left-of-center content.
Consider “InJustice” a shot across HBO’s bow. The pay channel debuted its own lawyer-based documentary, dubbed “Hot Coffee,“ June 27. That film argued against tort reform using the infamous McDonald’s coffee scalding case as its guide.
But Kelly thought “InJustice” might be a better fit on Investigation Discovery, one of a suite of channels under the Discovery imprimatur.
He was wrong.
“We were cutting the promos for the film 10 days away from its [March] premiere and learned Discovery was backing out of it. They felt it was a tort reform film,” he explains.
“It doesn’t advocate changing the law. It points out guys who broke the law. Three of the most influential trial attorneys in the country have one thing in common. They were all in jail when we made this film. That’s not tort reform in my book,” he says. “Could it be used as a message for tort reform? Sure.”
A spokeswoman for Investigation Discovery says “InJustice” was evaluated for the channel but ultiimately rejected. The spokesman added while the film was well crafted, it didn’t fit the channel’s storytelling mold, which focuses more on recreations of single events rather than comprehensive stories told via the talking head format.
Kelly brought his own unpleasant experience with the legal system to “InJustice.“ Years ago he had evicted a tenant from a building he owned, and the man and his wife, an attorney, hit back with a series of lawsuits against him.
“We were defending ourselves for a year and a half,” says Kelly, adding it took about $80,000 before it was over.
But it took an article in Reader’s Digest called “The $40 Billion Scam” looking at class action lawsuits against the asbestos and silicosis industries to set “inJustice” in motion.
“How does this happen? Is this real?” he asked of the kind of lawsuit abuse found in the article. And then he went to work to find out. He uncovered characters like Scruggs, convicted of bribing a Mississippi judge, and a jurisdiction in Illinois which served as the “epicenter” for class action filings for nearly a decade.
“The more we looked, the more we found,” he says.
Some of the issues he researched started out innocently enough, with Davids going toe to toe with Goliaths for some well deserved justice.
“Asbestos is a horrible product. At the beginning of this process there were very valid cases against the manufacturers,” he says.
Then, over time, lawyers see these “massive torts at work,” he says, and companies slowly realize there’s little they can do to adequately defend themselves so they start settling. The film also shows how the trial bar funds the election campaigns of sympathetic judges.
The lawsuit abuses often fall neatly along ideological lines, but there’s money spread all around, he says. (REVIEW: ‘The Undefeated’ is a narrative buster and choir preaching event)
“The trial bar, if you called it an industry, is by far the largest industry supporting the Democratic party. Corporate America fighting for tort reform supports Republicans,” he says. “There’s so much money that goes into influencing both sides.”
Sometimes it takes a single event to start a national conversation, like how the O.J. Simpson trial got people talking about domestic abuse.
Kelly hopes “InJustice” can have some impact on how citizens think about the current legal system.
“Hopefully, this film gets people thinking,” he says.
That may be an uphill battle. Kelly conducted “man on the street” interviews for “InJustice” and found an “ingrained apathy” that may be hard to shake.
“That’s just what lawyers do,” he says. But lawsuit abuse touches many people‘s lives in ways they don‘t imagine.
“It’s bigger than the card you get in the mail saying you get a discount on your new printer cartridge,“ he says.
“InJustice” will also be shown at 11 a.m. July 16 and 4 p.m. July 26. All times EST.