Volume 2, Issue 1 (Originally Published 23 July 2016)
If you were to think back to when you were a kid, in the good old days before uni, exams, and moot was just a noise a cow/owl hybrid* would make; when did the concept of lawyers first come into your head? When did you figure out that there was an the ethereal, mysteriously alluring class of snappy dressed men and women out there who stood up in a court room yelling stuff like “Objection!”, “Hearsay!” and “Subpoena!”.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that for most of you, it was when watching television.
Maybe it was the smooth, dulcet, righteous tones of Assistant D.A. Jack McCoy on Law & Order? Or perhaps for the soap-opera persuaded it was the late-90’s flourish of legal dramas like Judging Amy, Ally McBeal, The Practice, Conviction, Damages, Trust or Justice. Or hey, there’s even a good chance it was Judge Judy.
But perhaps you’re like me, and your first real encounter with lawyers was through The Simpsons. I practically grew up on the 6pm Channel 10 Simpsons, I wouldn’t have gotten through high school if it wasn’t for pandering to the cheap laughs you could get from spouting Simpsons quotes. But one character was always guaranteed to make me chuckle, the Simpsons’ family’s typical first port of call for legal advice, Lionel Hutz.
Lionel Hutz, aka Miguel Sanchez, aka Dr. Nguyen Van Falk featured on the show as a lawyer of Springfield, often defending the Simpsons in court for one of their usual misdemeanors. Described as a ‘shyster’ and likely ambulance chaser, Hutz claimed to have received his degree from Princeton (though Princeton interestingly doesn’t actually have a law school). He runs his own practice out of the Springfield Mall under the name “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm!” and his business card turns into a sponge when wet.
Hutz represented the Simpsons’ on numerous occasions, though rarely successfully. When the case looked in doubt his typical modus operandi was to slip out the window. Despite this he has won a number of cases, such as when Bart and a homeless guy sued the Itchy and Scratchy show runners for $800 billion, when Homer sued the Sea Captain’s restaurant for kicking him out when they’d promised “All You Can Eat” and when Bart sued Krusty for $10,000 in damages after he ingested a jagged metal Krusty-o “prize”, (which Hutz then proceeded to take $99,500 of in legal fees). When he babysat Bart and Lisa he also managed to haggle his fee to $8, two popsicles and an old birdcage.
But if you think about it though, when was the last time you actually saw Lionel Hutz in a new episode? A fact that I suspect has gone unnoticed by a large majority of Simpsons connoisseurs, is that Hutz’s character was actually discontinued in 1998. That’s right, Hutz hasn’t actually featured in a new episode in nearly 14 years. The quite sad story behind this fact was that his voice actor Phil Hartman, (you may remember him from voicing other characters such as Troy McClure and the Monorail guy), was actually murdered by his third wife at the age of 48. As a sign of respect, the Simpsons show runners chose to retire his primary characters Lional Hutz and Troy McClure. Phillip J. Fry, the star of Matt Groening’s other cartoon creation Futurama was also named in his honour.
Though his loss offers little grounds for humour, Hutz continues to elicit laughter or wry smiles at the least through endless Simpsons re-runs, YouTube videos and of course the memories. He was my amusing introduction to the law, and though his case was adjourned a little early, he’s certainly earned that celebratory belt of scotch.