Frank Overton played a DA on the Defenders

Frank Overton was a marvelous character actor who appeared in the recurring role of District Attorney William Bryant on the Defenders. Overton was  dignified and handsome with a flowing voice that drew attention to his role.   Overton and E.G. Marshall were courtroom adversaries but with a deep mutual respect.   In the movies, Overton’s most memorable role was that of General Bogan in the doomsday thriller  Fail Safe.

This is a summary of the The Defenders show the Invisible Badge.  The title refers to Charles Terranova’s view of his job as Prosecuting Attorney.  William Shatner plays Charles  Terranova

Charles Terranova is a young assistant District attorney. He prosecuted an elderly man for bookmaking and the man was found guilty. The bookmaker’s daughter contacts Paddy Birch for help. Birch is a political fixer – for a fee he uses his political contacts to get people what they want. Birch tells the bookmaker’s daughter that for $2,000 Terranova will tell the Judge to dismiss the case prior to sentencing. The bookmaker’s daughter waits outside a restaurant where Terranova is having lunch while Birch goes in to make the payoff. When Birch asks Terranova to dismiss the case, Terranova says that’s what he already intends to do.  No payoff being required, Birch keeps the money but does not tell the bookmaker’s daughter.  After the case against her father is dismissed, the bookmaker’s daughter turns Terranova in for taking a bribe.

What goes on here is a brilliant show of constructive tension as  DA Bill Bryan  interacts with Paddy Birch, Charles Terranova,  Mrs. Terra Nova, and Defenders Lawrence and Kenneth Preston.  For a good 20 minutes  Bryan virtually steals the show.

Paddy Burch is in the District Attorney’s office telling Mr. Bryan about the bribe.   Based mainly on his charge,  the Grand Jury indited Terranova.  After arriving at work,  Terranova finds his office cleaned out and goes to Bryan.  Coming with Terranova is Lawrence Preston, who will represent  young Terranova.   The DA does not like like prosecuting  one of the lawyers under his supervision.   He likes Charlie but has no choice but prosecuting him.   Bryan asked Paddy Burch to enter his office.  Terranova  is shocked and angered that he could lose his job and face a 10 year sentence based on the word of a con artist and political hack.   Lawrence Preston is angered as well but calms Terranova and they leave.

Afterword,  Mr. Bryan calls Burch back into his office.  “Paddy”, he says in anger, “you had better be telling the truth or so help me I’ll throw the book at you.”

After all of this,  Mrs Terranova  goes to the DA without her husband’s knowledge.  The strait laced Terranova would never have done this.  Mrs Terranova  doesn’t  understand that this visit,  as said earlier, could result in further  bribery changes against Charley and bury him in a virtual avalanche of accusations.   DA Bryan, showing concern for the Terranovas,  agreed not to mention this office visit.   He already has  enough information to follow up  with the indictment.

A conviction for Terranova means means disbarment,  a 10 year prison sentence, and a wreck of his whole life.   She then asks Bill Bryan how he can prosecute her  husband,  especially with their close working relationship.   Bryan states he cannot do his job if he lets personal considerations into the equation.   His entire focus is convict, convict, convict.   Not taking this approach makes him responsible for the entire process.  In addition to the prosecutor,  he becomes the defense attorney, the judge, the jury, and perhaps even the newspaper reporters.

Yet there is one time in this story where DA Bryan shows his concern for gathering all evidence.  In a private room, Lawrence ask Bryan to call a witness who will provide a complete picture of exactly what happened.  DA Bryan asks “Larry, you want me to call a person that will actually help you get the acquittal.  Why should I do this?’  Lawrence counters “Because you want a just verdict and you are a good guy.   Bryan agrees and calls the witness.  He is amazed that Lawrence, after all these years, still retains an optimist view of the human race. It is a marvelous clash between lawyers that is memorable.

At the trial, Birch can’t explain why he didn’t take his usual fee in this case. The bookmaker’s daughter has to be removed from the courtroom after her testimony because she starts screaming that everybody always wants to take advantage of her and her father. The  Judge in the bookmaker’s case is called to the stand and reveals himself to be a hanging judge who only dismissed the case because Terranova agreed to take responsibility for it.

Lawrence asks Terranova,  now on the witness stand, why he wanted the judge to dismiss the charge.  Charles explains his view of the case matched against his own ideals.   Basically Terranova says that the law must be an instrument of social justice.  In this case, the amount was so small  that  it could hardly be called bookmaking.  The arrest occurred only because a drive was on  against the rackets .  Finally Lawrence asks him Terranova  “Did you accept a bribe to dismiss the charges?  Terronova says no he did not.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.  Mr Bryan congratulates both  Terranova and the Prestons.  Bryan says he is glad to lose this one and looks forward to working with him.  Bryan turns to the protagonist and says.  “Paddy, this jury seems to think you pocketed the money.  In addition, they say you are guilty of perjury.  Maybe you will  have better luck with another jury.  But I doubt it.”  Bryan  wants to be the DA Paddy’s trial.

Frank Overton make this story great.



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