Arthur Kirkland (Al Pacino), a defense attorney in Baltimore, is in jail on contempt of court charge after throwing a punch at judge Henry T. Fleming (John Forsythe) while arguing the case of Jeff McCullaugh (Thomas G. Waites).
McCullagh was stopped for a minor traffic offense, but then mistaken for a killer of the same name and has already spent a year and a half in jail; Fleming has repeatedly stymied Kirkland’s efforts to have the case reviewed. Though there is strong new evidence that Jeff is innocent, Fleming refuses McCullaugh’s appeal due to a minor technicality and leaves him in prison. After being released, Arthur takes another case, that of transgender individual Ralph Agee (Robert Christian), arrested for small crime and becoming a victim of the legal system.
When not working, Arthur pays regular nursing home visits to his grandfather Sam (Lee Strasberg), who is becoming senile, giving his grandson advice such as “If you’re not honest, you’re nothing.” It is revealed that Arthur was abandoned by his parents at a young age, and it was Sam who raised him and put him through law school. Arthur also begins a romance with a legal ethics committee member, Gail Packer (Christine Lahti).
One day, Arthur is shocked to find himself requested to defend Fleming, who to everyone’s surprise has been accused of brutally assaulting and raping a young woman. As the two loathe each other, Fleming feels that having the person who publicly hates him argue his innocence will be to his advantage. Fleming blackmails Kirkland with an old violation of lawyer-client confidentiality, for which Arthur likely will be disbarred if it ever comes to light. Gail confirms this off the record.
Judge Francis Rayford (Jack Warden), who has a friendly relationship with Arthur, takes him for a hair-raising ride in his personal helicopter over the harbor and Fort McHenry, laughing as he tests how far they can possibly go without running out of fuel, while a terrified Arthur begs him to land. Rayford, a veteran of the Korean War, is borderline suicidal and keeps a rifle in his chambers at the courthouse, a 1911 pistol in his shoulder holster at all times, and eats his lunch on the ledge outside his office window, four stories up.
…And Justice for All (1979)
Directed by: Norman Jewison
Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Warden, John Forsythe, Lee Strasberg, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Lahti, Sam Levene, Robert Christian
Screenplay by: Valerie Curtin, Barry Levinson
Production Design by: Richard Macdonald
Cinematography by: Victor J. Kemper
Film Editing by: John F. Burnett
Costume Design by: Ruth Myers
Set Decoration by: Thomas L. Roysden
Art Direction by: Peter Samish
Music by: Dave Grusin
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: October 19, 1979