“Defamation”: A synopsis of the Kane County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee CLE Seminar
On October 17, 2013, the Kane County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee presented an Ethics CLE Seminar to KCBA members in a unique fashion through the performance of a live play.
The play Defamation is a riveting courtroom drama written by Todd Logan and directed by Richard Shavzin. Professional actors illuminate the way in which questions of race, religion, and class collide during a civil trial of a defamation suit brought by an African American plaintiff Ms. Regina Wade, a legal graphic designer from the south side of Chicago, against Mr. Arthur Golden, a wealthy Jewish realtor residing in upscale Winnetka.
The attendees were welcomed to the seminar by Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph H. McMahon. Following the welcome, Kane County Chief Judge Judy Brawka spoke about the importance of diversity to the legal profession in Kane County. Judge Brawka then introduced Justice Reyes of the First District of the Illinois Appellate Courts. Justice Reyes discussed the implementation of diversity and the obligation of the American justice system, as an exemplar of democracy, to illustrate a commitment to diversity.
Following Justice Reyes’s remarks, the audience was prepared by the performance troupe for the play. The plaintiff, Regina Wade is the owner of a legal graphics business in Chicago and is working to find new clients in a failing economy. Ms. Wade’s friend, Lorraine Jordan, also an African-American, is a lawyer at a large downtown law firm. Ms. Jordan introduces Ms. Wade to Arthur Golden, a real estate developer from Winnetka so that Ms. Wade can assist Mr. Golden with some pro bono graphic design for an upcoming meeting. Ms. Jordan had hoped that this introduction could lead to additional business for Ms. Wade in the future.
Through a series of direct and cross examinations of Ms. Wade, Mr. Golden, and Ms. Jordan, the attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant manage to portray entirely different recollections of the meeting between Mr. Golden and Ms. Wade. The audience acts as the jury and watches closely as each side attempts to illustrate their side of the story.
The crux of the lawsuit brought by Ms. Wade against Mr. Golden arises out of a meeting between the parties at Mr. Golden’s home in Winnetka. After the meeting ends, and as Ms. Wade is leaving Mr. Golden’s house, she is accused by Mr. Golden of stealing his heirloom watch. This accusation ultimately leads to Ms. Wade losing the business of Ms. Jordan’s law firm, who was Ms. Wade’s biggest client. Ms. Wade brings a defamation suit against Mr. Golden for his repeated accusation that Ms. Wade stole his watch during the course of their business meeting, which she alleged caused her to lose the business of Ms. Jordan’s law firm.
Mr. Golden’s attorney is played by an African American woman, and Ms. Wade’s attorney is played by a Caucasian male. The dialogues between the characters are gripping and beautifully realized. Through the entire performance all the actors masterfully bring the characters to life and keeping the audience involved and on their toes.
Upon conclusion of the trial and of the play, audience members were polled by table to render a verdict in the civil suit. Many attendees struggled as they were forced to make a decision. Defamation playwright Todd Logan said he wrote this play to inspire a civil discourse, stating that “Whether we like it or not, we still have major divides in this country. Most of us still go to bed at night in cities, communities and neighborhoods that are segregated by race, religion, ethnicity and class.”
At the end of the play, attorneys Tim Reuland and Gary Johnson skillfully led and moderated a discussion with the audience consisting of over 100 attorneys. The audience was forthcoming, engaged and candid about why they would find for the plaintiff or the defendant and whether race, religion, gender or socio-economic status affected their judgment one way or the other.
The attendees also received an update in case law relating to civil rights and discrimination from Jennifer Soule and Kelly Lambert, including an interesting discussion about the recent decisions from the Supreme Court.
In sum, the seminar became more than a mere CLE. It provided KCBA members with the opportunity to think and dialogue about some of the more difficult, unspoken issues that each of us confront as we engage in the practice of law. The Diversity Committee thanks all of the seminar attendees, speakers, and sponsors for their avid support of this event. ■