Family of ‘Bridge of Spies’ lawyer joins Brooklyn Federal Court for screening
Brooklyn’s federal court steered clear of typical trials, juries and naturalization ceremonies for one night and replaced them with a movie, snacks and soda as it screened Tom Hanks’ latest movie “Bridge of Spies” on Monday evening.
To top that, the children of James B. Donovan, the attorney played by Hanks in the movie, were in attendance for a panel discussion to talk about their father and some of the background of the movie.
“Fascinating and important cases that have been tried in this court have long captured the attention of Hollywood,” said Chief Judge Carol Bagley Amon, who cited “The House on 92nd Street,” “Goodfellas,” “American Hustle” and the “Wolf of Wall Street” as just a few of the movies based off cases at the Eastern District court.
“Perhaps no more interesting case was tried in this district since the 1957 trial of Rudolf Abel,” Bagley Amon continued. “We are just so grateful that [Donovan’s] children have joined us today to share their memories of the trial and their father.”
Jan Amorosi, John Donovan and Mary Ellen Fuller — Donovan’s three children — sat down with Judge Reena Raggi, who moderated the event, to discuss their father. Three members of the Federal Bar Council Inn of Court team, Sanket Bulsara, Tanya Hajjar and Audrey Lu, who reenacted the Abel trial in 2014, were also part of the panel to discuss the legal aspects of the case.
Jan, John and Mary Ellen took turns telling stories about their father and talking about what happened behind the scenes of the movie.
“The only inkling I had that something big was coming up [the exchange of a Russian spy for two Americans orchestrated by her father and as depicted in the movie] was when we were in a taxi together,” Jan recalled. “[My father] had a nervous habit where he would rub his palms together, and he was doing that. I asked what was going on and he just said, ‘I’m excited, but I can’t talk about it now.’”
John told a story that could be fit for another movie, recalling the time his father took him to Cuba to meet with Fidel Castro in an attempt to free American prisoners. It was a harrowing tale that might have ended disastrously if a CIA plot to kill Castro had been successful at that time.
“He heard that there were 35 U.S. citizens not connected with the Bay of Pigs, who were still in Cuba,” John recalled. “He decided that he had to get those prisoners out if at all possible. He was an unusual lawyer because he didn’t think strictly in legalistic terms. That’s why he brought me, his [then]-18-year-old son, down there to try to humanize the situation.”
Mary Ellen, the youngest of Donovan’s children, teared up while listening to Judge Raggi speak so highly of her father. She said that she has seen the movie 14 times already and called it a “love letter” to her father.
“Our father has been a footnote in history; he’s been in the shadows for 45 years, and Spielberg calls my father his hero,” Fuller said. “[Spielberg] has been so kind, so sweet, and to have [Judge Raggi] say such laudatory things about my father in this environment, I think that he would be so happy.”
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