“The Good Wife” Boxes-in Love and Politics

Photo: CBS

“The Good Wife” season finale “What’s in the Box?” questions cheating at the ballot box and in a marriage.

Will Gardner (Josh Charles) and Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) represent Alicia’s husband Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) in an election fraud case. One night, working late, Will and Alicia end up passionately kissing. In confused pain, Alicia says, “That kiss opened up something, again. I don’t know how to close it. … I’m with Peter now and I just can’t figure my way out of this.

To Think Out of the Box, Go to the Top

So, I consulted Chicago family law attorney Donald Schiller, a partner at Schiller DuCanto and Fleck. Some of his cases have included representing the wives in the divorces of Juanita Jordan from Michael Jordan, Andrea Kelly from R&B singer R. Kelly, and Elaine Wynn from real estate developer and hotel mogul, Steve Wynn.

For the ballot box problems, I spoke with Michael Kasper, a partner at Fletcher, O’Brien, Kasper & Nottage. A few of his cases have included defending Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel regarding the 2011 election, prosecuting former Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich and representing President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton in election litigation.

No Fault Divorces in Illinois

Don Schiller attorney

Donald Schiller

If Alicia leaves Peter, the fact of an affair with Will should not affect her legal rights. “We have total no fault divorces in Illinois. But there would be all sorts of political implications and PR issues affecting people’s view of her integrity. Although in this case, her husband had notorious affairs, even with prostitutes. So, I think people would be more forgiving of her than of the average woman lawyer,” said Don. Adultery is a misdemeanor in Illinois. But it’s highly unlikely that Alicia would be busted for it (at least not by the cops) as it remains a very low priority for prosecuting attorneys.

Political Reality

Michael J. Kasper

Michael Kasper

As former Illinois native, Hillary Clinton, said in her presidential bid, “I’m in it to win it.” For politics, that kind of steely resolve is not an option but a necessity. “Politics is a rough business. Much of the reason that it’s such a rough business is it’s winner take all. You can’t make society better unless you win. So sometimes it’s hard to be noble when you’re faced with that situation. You win or you lose and there’s no in between,” said Michael.

The Plotline

Suspecting ballot tampering, Alicia and Peter’s son Zach (Graham Phillips) photographs an early ballot box with a broken seal. In an emergency  hearing before the polls open in the morning, Alicia and Will argue to exclude the ballots. Patti Nyholm (Martha Plimpton), representing the opposing candidate, attacks Zach’s credibility, arguing the votes should count. The judge segregates the ballots but in counting them on election day finds they heavily favor Peter. Suddenly, Alicia and Patti switch positions, vigorously arguing what they had vehemently opposed less than 24 hours ago.

Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry) plans to form a new firm with other Lockhart & Gardner associates, and tries to convince Alicia to join them.

Private eye Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) brings Will a video that proves Peter’s campaign stuffed the ballot box in question. Peter angrily acknowledges if he brings the evidence to the judge, he will lose the election. He refuses to take responsibility and leaves the decision to Will. In court, Will does nothing to show the judge the ballot box fraud.

Peter wins the election by a huge margin, without needing the votes in question. During the victory celebration, Alicia slips away to meet not Will – but Cary, to tell him she’ll join the new firm.

How Realistic Was the Story?

Michael has rousted judges out of bed in the middle of the night on more than one occasion. Early votes are counted in a central location on election day. In Illinois the polls close at 7 p.m., then the precinct votes are tallied and entered into the main computer. Before publishing the votes, the early and absentee ballots are added into each precinct total. As in the show, if ballot tampering were suspected, a lawyer would request the ballots be segregated. Michael said in arguing whether or not to then count the ballots, the desire to count as many people’s votes as possible weighs against the need to protect the integrity of an election, by excluding sham votes.

However, he explained, “Stuffing a ballot box in a race for governor in a state like Illinois is unlikely to happen because the risk to reward ratio is too high. You’re talking about millions of ballots being cast and stuffing a single ballot box with a hundred ballots is so unlikely to determine the outcome. Why would you run the risk?”

Good Wife review

Photo: CBS

As to Alicia and Patty’s switching arguments solely based on their clients’ desire for votes, to maintain any credibility with the judge they would need to present more compelling reasons. With Kalinda’s videotape, it’s a felony to tamper with ballots or to be a co-conspirator. In addition, “A lawyer cannot withhold evidence, which is bad for his side just because it’s bad for his side. We have obligations to disclose everything that we are obligated to disclose,” said Michael.

Advice for Alicia’s Man Troubles

“This goes beyond my area of expertise,” said Michael with a laugh. “Whatever path she chooses, there will be hazards along the way.”

However, Don said, “People going through divorce generally do not want it in the public domain because it affects their children and the community.” He noted the desire to keep matters private could play a substantial role in the settlement. If she divorces Peter, leaving Lockhart & Gardner could help the negotiations.

Whom should Alicia choose? Please comment below or send Tweets to @BetsyKim or @Lawyerscom.

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