Monday, October 25, 2004

In judgement of 'Amy'

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Hartford Courant - October 1, 1999

By DANA TOFIG, Courant Staff Writer

Those in the Connecticut judicial system are judging "Amy."And so far, the verdict is pretty good."In general, I think that they're doing the best they can to portray the system in an hour," said Jonathan Kaplan, the presiding judge at Rockville Superior Court in Vernon.

In "Judging Amy," Glastonbury native Amy Brenneman portrays a Hartford juvenile judge who, in the first three episodes, has handled custody battles, divorces, neglect cases and even a civil trial over a murder. That's a busy first few weeks as a judge, and so far she has handled things with aplomb.

But when it comes to courtroom dramas, those in legal circles are tough to please and gleefully look for inaccuracies or inconsistencies in the way TV lawyers work and TV judges preside. Of course, they also understand that a motion to suppress evidence or a bond-reduction hearing won't exactly bring in high ratings.

"The trial process is 90 percent uninteresting, maybe even boring, and then 10 percent exciting and interesting," Kaplan said.

"They are taking the highlights of it."

But Brenneman has said she took extra care to make her character, Judge Amy Gray, a realistic jurist and only needed to look to her mother -- former judge and current trial referee Frederica Brenneman -- for guidance. The extra care and family connection has paid off, so far.

"The first show I saw I thought was fairly realistic," said Christine Keller, the administrative judge for Connecticut's juvenile court system. "I do know that [Brenneman's] mother has obviously told her about tales of the court, and they have used some of the information.

"Keller said when she first became a judge she, like Judge Amy Gray, had young children and was a little overwhelmed. "I can sympathize in some of the episodes where she's on the bench, and you get an emergency call from the school," Keller said.

The lingo is pretty accurate, like references to DCF [Department of Children and Families] and OTC [order of temporary custody], and the sheriff's uniforms are dead-on. But while the small courtroom with a low desk is accurate, the courthouse itself is a little too plush.

"There's no juvenile courthouse in the state that looks that good," Keller said.The character of Amy Gray is loosely based on the life of Frederica Brenneman. But some believe that Gray's TV mom, portrayed by Tyne Daly, is a little more like the real Judge Brenneman.

"She was a good judge," said Ann M. Guillet, a public defender who worked in the juvenile courts for six years and argued before Judge Brenneman.

"She always knew all the issues in the case. But she wasn't always the most patient. Can you tell by the character?"

If Judge Amy Gray were a real judge, she probably wouldn't handle such a wide range of cases, Keller said. Certainly, as a juvenile judge, it is unlikely she would have presided over a civil trial, as she did in Tuesday's episode. But that may be where the line between Hollywood and Hartford Superior Court is drawn.

"I think the television people have decided that juvenile court isn't exciting enough," Keller said.

AMY BRENNEMAN , a Glastonbury native, plays a Hartford judge in the CBS drama "Judging Amy." But it takes a sharp eye to find anything closely resembling Hartford in the series.

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