An intimate look at attorneys on both sides of the justice system isn’t anything new, but in the hands of Oscar-winning documentarians Denis Poncet and Jean-Xavier De Lestrade, Sundance Channel’s four-week, eight-hour series “Sin City Law” feels like a fresh take on those lawyers who represent criminals that dwell on the bottom of the food chain. Subject matter is a bit off-brand for a cabler that deals more with iconoclasts than crooks, but net’s execs, smartly, didn’t want to let good material get away.
While Las Vegas acts as a hook here, the locale could be anywhere U.S.A., so the title feels a bit misleading. Those wanting for stories about casinos heists won’t have their craving satisfied. Yet those who turn away because of that fact will be missing out.
Images of the Strip and facts are splashed across the screen early — there are 40 million tourists who come to town, 700,000 criminal offenses a year, one in five crimes are meth related — but it’s what happens away from slots and roulette wheels that’s most disturbing.
In episode one, “Butchered Innocence,” special public defender Alzora Jackson is handling the case of Monique Maestas, who, with her brother, is on trial for the murder of a 3-year-old girl and the attempted murder of her sister, a 10-year-old who was paralyzed following a brutal stabbing.
Jackson is an earnest, hard-working attorney who realizes she’s up against it in proving Maestas’ innocence. Plus, she’s under a fluctuating timeline as her case will start the moment the punishment phase of Maestas’ brother, Beau, ends.
Poncet and De Lestrade, who won the Oscar for 2001 doc “Murder on a Sunday Morning,” find Jackson a study in contrast. A mother and churchgoer, she’s repulsed by Monique’s actions but yet calls her client “sweetie” and says “Days like this just break my heart for her” when Maestas is having a particularly rough day.
Not much attention is paid to the district attorney nor the judge who must rule on an agreed upon plea for Maestas. They’re nothing more than supporting players, but it’s a wise choice to keep them off to the side. The public defender, who must constantly deal with the struggle between her conscience and professionalism in providing the best defense for her client, is easily the most telegenic aspect of “Sin City.”
Production elements are all top notch, and plaudits should be paid to the filmmakers for being a fly in the wall and listening in on normally secretive plea discussions between opposing counsel and counsel and client, while never getting in the way of either.