Secretly Brilliant Legal Moments from ‘Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law’
When you’re a litigator, winning a legal case comes down to the questions you ask — questions like, “Who is the man in the suit?” or “Who is the cat with the beeeeeeeaaaaak?”
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law asked questions about the nature of justice and the righteousness of its arbiters in an animated courtroom masterpiece that, to this day, has not been surpassed by a single legal procedural in its number of courtroom laser fights or cross-examinations of beloved Hanna-Barbera characters. Though the Adult Swim darling isn’t known for the avian attorney’s astute legal aptitude as much as it is for its ambitious absurdity and comedic courtroom clashes, one litigator I spoke with told me that Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law is “not a lot more inaccurate than most TV and movie depictions of courtroom procedure.” That said, another anonymous attorney said of the show, “I don’t know what I’m looking at,” and “Why is Fred Flintstone in this?”
Either way, here are the best moments of legal mastery from our favorite, flying, sun-powered superhero lawyer, Harvey Birdman…
Rebutting Prima Facie Evidence By Establishing That Boo-Boo Bear Is Illiterate
Not many attorneys are brave enough to defend an accused terrorist when the powers that be have already deemed him guilty — then again, not many attorneys are as noble as Harvey Birdman. In the episode “Death by Chocolate,” Harvey takes the case of Yogi Bear Show character Boo-Boo Bear, who is accused of a litany of crimes committed by a shadowy figure known only as “The Unabooboo.”
Among the pieces of evidence submitted by the prosecution in the case is a manifesto allegedly written by The Unaboobo in which he explains his anti-government, anti-technology, anti-corporatist ideals. However, upon examining a misaligned letter in the manifesto, Birdman deduces that the diatribe could not have been written by Boo-Boo because it was clearly written on an electric typewriter, and Boo-Boo lives in a cave with no electricity. Then, in court, Birdman asks Boo-Boo’s confidant Yogi Bear to read the manifesto aloud, after which Yogi confesses that both he and Boo-Boo can’t read. Boo-Boo is acquitted, and Birdman beats the system.
Later, Birdman finds an electric typewriter hooked up to a generator in Boo-Boo’s cave and begins to question his client’s innocence. Back at the office, Harvey shoots Boo-Boo dead with an energy blast out of panic, which causes Yogi Bear to fly into a rage and declare that he’ll kill Harvey, before a hearty group laugh inexplicably brings Boo-Boo back to life and the credits roll.
Declaring Mobster Fred Flintstone Unfit to Stand Trial Due to Bowling Ball-Induced Delirium
The “mentally unfit due to insanity” defense is often attempted but rarely successful. And yet, in “The Dabba Don,” Harvey helps a dangerous criminal go free by establishing through a series of clips from The Flintstones that Fred Flintstone, a deeply entrenched member of a powerful mob family, has sustained a series of head injuries that have caused him to switch personalities.
Despite a mountain of evidence and testimony suggesting that Flintstone is a career criminal and an important member of the Caveman Cosa Nostra — including an admission from his client’s wife Wilma — the clips of Flintstone careening around as a playboy racecar driver after sustaining bowling ball bonks on the skull somehow convince the jury that Fred simply “thought” he was a mob boss because of all the precariously placed bowling balls in his life.
As we discover when the episode concludes, Fred, in fact, wasn’t a mob boss at all — he was only the stooge of a bigger prehistoric fish, the godfather known as Barney Rubble.
Harvey Shows That Shaggy and Scooby’s Stoner Tendencies Are All Circumstantial Evidence
Hanna-Barbera’s plausible deniability in putting a pair of munchies-obsessed slacker-stoners in a children’s cartoon is also a solid legal defense in a world where the burden of proof is on the prosecution. “Innocent until proven guilty” prevailed in the episode “Shaggy Busted,” wherein Shaggy and Scooby are arrested after a routine traffic stop of the Mystery Machine goes horribly wrong and lands the pair in prison.
After pulling over the iconic van, a police officer suspects that its lone occupants Shaggy and Scooby are under the influence and asks them to step out of the vehicle. Suddenly, they speed off, which they claim was to meet up with the rest of the gang and catch a “grassy green monster” at the old cotton mill. The prosecution presents evidence of marijuana use by the perpetually munching and giggling gaggle of slackers, but just as is the case in the actual Scooby Doo cartoon, all the evidence of them puffing on Scooby Doobies is shown to be circumstantial and no actual drug use is ever caught on camera.
The episode ends with Fred and Velma bursting into the courtroom with the aforementioned monster in hand, only to reveal the villain to be Old Man Bakov. The courtroom shares a hearty laugh, and Shaggy and Scooby go free.