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 . . . "
"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 . . .