There’s a new law school in our community, but the young lawyers in this program are still about a decade away from taking the bar
“All rise!” commands the court bailiff. Suddenly, the din in the room turns to silence as the judge ascends to the bench.
“You may be seated,” she says. “The court will now hear the case of Metro Goldwyn Mayer versus American Honda Motor Company.” Then, looking at counsel for MGM and Honda she asks, “Are you ready to proceed with your opening statements?”
“Yes, your honor,” each one replies.
The case before the jury is a civil lawsuit. The jury must determine if American Honda Motor Company produced an advertisement based on MGM’s James Bond films in violation of the Copyright Act of 1976, as the plaintiff claims, or if fair use applies, as asserted by the defendant.
In his opening statement, the counsel for MGM tells the jury that he will present evidence and witnesses that will show Honda took his client’s one-of-a-kind idea of James Bond and used it in an ad for its own profit.
Then Honda’s counsel approaches the jury, telling them they will hear a big movie company complain that a simple television ad somehow copied a major motion picture. She cautions them not to be fooled.
The commercial is shown to the jury and witnesses for each side are called to testify.
As the case concludes with closing arguments and instructions to the jury from the judge, there is still one more person from whom the jury must hear before deliberating. His name is Robbie Robertson. No, he’s not another witness, attorney, or court official in the case, but he is an essential person in the process. Mr. Robertson is a teacher at South Seminole Academy of Leadership, Law & Advanced Studies, (formerly South Seminole Middle School), and the courtroom where this trial is taking place is actually his classroom.
Mr. Robertson’s students are part of his Street Law class, and the mock trial in which they participated was based on a real-life lawsuit litigated in 1995, long before any of them were born.
“Good job,” he tells everyone. Then, turning to the students in the jury box, he cautions them, “When you go to deliberate, you must analyze what you heard, ask questions, and dig deeper. Think about the facts, but also think with your heart.”
As the students file into the jury room, he joins them to make sure they understand the jury process and the legal implications of fair use and copyright infringement upon which this case rests.
Awaiting the jury’s verdict, the other students who participated in the trial talk about this class and Mr. Robertson.
Riley Turner, who represented MGM in the mock trial, says he’s thinking about a career in law.
“This is helping me to prepare for law classes when I attend Lake Mary High School,” he says. “It’s also taught me not to be nervous in public settings.”
“I look forward to Mr. Robertson’s classes,” says Noa Etgar, Honda’s defense attorney.
Judge Mia Redman proclaims, “I like learning about the rights of people.”
Local attorneys are big fans of the program, too.
“You can read about the law and study law, but until you really get your hands into it, it’s hard to know if it’s something you want to do later in life,” says attorney Shannon Snedaker with Snedaker Law in Lake Mary. Shannon is also president of the Seminole County Florida Association for Women Lawyers, which is raising money to support the South Seminole program. “It’s fantastic that we have local schools that provide opportunities like this.”
Back in the classroom, students hear the jury returning, and everyone involved in the case resumes their roles.
Turning to the jury, the judge asks the foreperson if they’ve reached a verdict.
“We the jury find that Honda did copy the James Bond idea. We find that Honda did not make fair use of the James Bond idea.”
Though they didn’t know it, their verdict matched the real verdict in Metro Goldwyn Mayer v. Honda Motor Company, Mr. Robertson explains. As he compliments the class for their good work, the bell rings for next period. Mr. Robertson smiles with pride as his legal learners leave.
A Georgia native who lives with his wife Trish and five children in Oviedo, Robbie Robertson is a Retired Air National Guard Commander who served 22 years and earned a law degree along the way. But when he retired his command, Robbie says he found himself at a fork in the road.
“I knew I didn’t want to practice law,” says Robbie, “but I love the law, and teaching students about how it affects us as individuals and a community has been rewarding. This is a great age to teach, and this is where I’m needed.”
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On that count, it’s likely his students would render a verdict in Mr. Robertson’s favor.