Madison attorney Jessica Mederson has found a way to balance both the legal and the geek sides of her personality.
Sept. 6, 2017 – What’s your opinion: Can the surviving family members of the storm troopers who died in the destruction of the Death Star sue the Empire due to the defect put into the station by an Imperial technician? Are there adverse possession issues surrounding the legal ownership of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber?
If those questions (coming out of the Star Wars movies Rogue One and The Force Awakens) have crossed your mind, you’re not alone – and Jessica Mederson, Wisconsin lawyer and blogger, will happily join in the discussion.
Mederson, with co-blogger Joshua Gilliland, recently posed these questions at Comic-Con in San Diego, moderating two sessions – both involving legal issues posed by science fiction narratives.
Mederson is a self-described native speaker of all things “geek,” both legal and science fiction. “I grew up loving sci-fi,” she said. That love began in a movie theater as a little girl, watching the first Star Wars movie with her dad, and she recalls vividly seeing the 1970s-era Wonder Woman doing her spinning move on television. “I grew up loving Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader.”
The Legal Geek
But that love had no relationship with her legal career – Mederson is a business and IP litigator with Hanson Reynolds LLC in Madison – apart from the small collection of toys in her office.
org sgreen wisbar Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by org sgreen wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
“I’ve always had a Darth Vader toy and a Wonder Woman lunchbox in my office,” she said. “Aside from visitors commenting on them, they had no relation with my legal career.”
Until she met Gilliland, a lawyer in California. They connected through their legal blogs on e-discovery. When they realized they both loved science fiction and law, they quickly joined together to create a blog that combines both: The Legal Geeks.
Created in 2012, The Legal Geeks blog tackles questions like who should be Groot’s legal guardian, and whether parents are legally liable for property damage caused by monsters summoned to their city by their minor child.
“A geek is someone who is passionate about something,” Mederson said. “I’m passionate about Wonder Woman in particular, but I’m also passionate about the law. It is such a great experience to combine the two,” she said.
Now, she is able to balance both of her passions – with the wholehearted support of her firm.
Jessica Mederson poses with a female Thor cosplayer at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2017.
With a collection of panelists that included a California Supreme Court justice and two federal magistrates, Mederson and Gilliland moderated the session “The Judges of Star Wars” at the convention in July.
This year was Mederson’s third appearance at the massively popular science fiction convention. They first hosted a panel at Comic-Con San Diego in 2015. Mederson was quite shocked when their proposal for a panel on the legal issues of the Star Wars universe was accepted. “I thought there was never a chance we would get in,” she said.
In that first session, the panelists had the complete attention of the audience, with kids and adults alike asking in-depth legal questions. “They were hanging on our every word,” she said. “We even got a standing ovation at the end. It was the most amazing, positive legal experience in my life!”
A Line at the Door
This year, their Star Wars panel took place in one of the convention’s largest rooms, allowing an audience of around 500 people – proof of its popularity with convention-goers. “We had a line at the door, and yet not everyone was able to get in,” Mederson said.
Panelists at this year’s session included California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, Judge John B. Owens of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Federal Magistrate Judge Mitch Dembin, Federal Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman, California Judge Carol Najera, and former Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, now deputy general counsel of litigation at Facebook. “It was a most amazing panel,” Mederson said. “All of our judges love Star Wars.”
There are a lot of these legal questions that come up that aren’t too different from what we’re facing here, except they are in outer space.
The discussion included the legal ownership issues surrounding Skywalker’s lightsaber – which touches on issues of property law, probate, and adverse possession. “Tracing its property ownership from Anakin Skywalker on down is a very interesting property law exercise,” Mederson said. “Was it actually Luke’s? Or, since he was partially responsible for the death of his father, would he be entitled to inherit it?”
Mederson and Gilliland also coordinated and hosted a special event at this year’s Comic-Con: a mock trial for Marvel’s Luke Cage, which required lawyers taking part on both sides of the “trial” and an actor portraying Luke Cage. “It was a very big, involved session,” she said. “It went very well, and was an amazing show.”
They are making plans for next year’s sessions, contemplating panels on the Marvel universe, Wonder Woman, and Thor – perhaps in addition to the ever-popular Star Wars. Mederson is also interested in recruiting other Wisconsinites – judges or lawyers – to participate. “We definitely want to go back,” she said.
The “Judges on Star Wars” panel at San Diego Comic-Con, from left: Josh Gilliland, California Judge Carol Najera, Federal Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman, California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, former Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal (now Deputy General Counsel of Litigation at Facebook), Federal Magistrate Judge Mitch Dembin, Judge John B. Owens of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Jessica Mederson.
Not So Far, Far Away
The underlying legal issues debated in Mederson’s and Gilliland’s panel sessions – including whether droids have civil rights – aren’t simply a mental exercise of “what-ifs,” according to Mederson.
“With the technological advances in self-driving cars and robotics, we’re going to have to start dealing with these issues,” Mederson said. “There are a lot of these legal questions that come up that aren’t too different from what we’re facing here, except they are in outer space.”