Benched: The Corporate Takeover of the Judiciary

An ungainly documentary on an important subject, this video chronicles the 2004 race for the Fifth District seat on the Illinois Supreme Court, which turned into a $10 million dogfight between the nation's trial lawyers (backing Democrat Gordon Maag) and the insurance and tobacco industries (backing tort-reform Republican Lloyd Karmeier). Writer-director-editor Wayne Ewing seems to have been stonewalled by the Republicans, and though he collects insightful analysis from liberal attorneys, he never establishes a voice of his own; the problem is only exacerbated by on-screen correspondent Paul Johnson, who alternates between leading questions and William Hurt-style reaction shots. The resulting report dances around its thesis (that Karmeier essentially owes his election to the Philip Morris company) and stoops to Michael Moore-type stunts (ambushing hostile subjects, exploiting accident victims). 75 min.

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