Perry Mason is Fine, but My Heart's with Atticus Finch

Posted: Jul 16, 2009 10:00 AM

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor told senators Wednesday she was inspired to become a prosecutor by watching the TV show, "Perry Mason." Of course, Mason (played by Raymond Burr), was a defense lawyer who consistently won.

It's interesting that a prosecutor would be inspired by a winning defense lawyer. In her explanation, Sotomayor cited a conversation in which Mason consoles prosecutor Hamilton Burger, and Burger explains why he doesn't mind losing to Mason.

"No, my job as a prosecutor is to do justice, and justice is served when a guilty man is convicted and an innocent man is not," she remembered Burger telling Mason.

That's certainly a moving line, and Perry Mason was a fine inspiration. But for my money, the most admirable fictional lawyer -- bar none -- is Atticus Finch.

And my favorite part of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" revolves around Atticus' determination to defend a black man who was accused of raping a white woman, while explaining it to his kids, who have been harassed.

Here's an exchange between Atticus and his daughter, Scout:

"This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience -- Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man."

"Atticus, you must be wrong . . . "

"How's that?"

"Well, most folks seem to think they're right and you're wrong . . . "

"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions," said Atticus, "but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

Atticus Finch lost that case, but I'd like to see Perry Mason -- or Hamilton Burger -- make such an inspiring speech . . .