Celebrity Lawyer Discusses Lessons Learned from the Rust Shooting

[Source: Beverly Hills Bar Association]

Celebrity Lawyer Christopher C. Melcher, who is ranked as a best family law attorney in California, discusses the lessons learned from the Rust Shooting Charges with other specialists at the Beverly Hills Bar Association. 


Heather Pearson:

… That we think should be an industry standard. I don’t know if people are moving away from on set firearms. I don’t know how often it happens. I know we get calls sometimes when it does and certainly people right now are talking about safety, but sometimes, safety issues, we get excited about them and then we forget when we get busy.

Christopher C. Melcher:

“Heather, have there been discussions about putting it in contracts and saying, “Look, we’re mandating that,” I don’t know, “the armorer have a certain level of experience or mandating that we have a safety officer on scene”? Do you think it’s going to head to that direction to, actually, rather than relying on people to hire qualified armorers, to actually mandate this somehow in a contract?” asks top family law attorney Christopher C. Melcher.

Heather Pearson:

Local 600 put out a resolution on the use of firearms and what we think should happen, including using replicas and all the things that I’ve been talking about.


I think more will be, contractually. We’re always trying to get safety issues resolved. When this happened, we were in the middle of our negotiations and people, because of an incident like this, our members had a very hard time trusting productions. They’re trying to learn their own safety. They’re looking for training for onset safety, and as I said, talking about concerted activity and what they can do to protect themselves because they’re concerned that employers aren’t going to.

We are obviously going to press for employers to have those safety standards, and I think, in the end, they want them.


Obviously, in the end, I don’t think employers want this to happen and they’re going to look for better ways to do it, to make it work more safely. I think we’ll see less firearms, but I don’t know.

Christopher C. Melcher:

I’m going to go to Bryan for his concluding remarks and, then, I’ll give Richard the last word, so Bryan, what are your takeaways from this? How can we do things better?

Bryan W. Carpenter:

Well, I’ve used a firearm as a tool my entire adult life, since right after 1992, and it’s only as good or as bad as the hands that used it. I always say, “If the bad guys have them, you better hope the good guys do as well.” Having said that, to want a world without firearms or without that kind of thing, if I didn’t want that, it would be something wrong for me, so obviously, I would rather us not have to use firearms in real world or film if necessary. I also like to say, “It’s not all rainbows and puppy toes out there.” In the real world, they’re needed, unfortunately still.

In the film world, SFX, special effects, just isn’t quite where it needs to get the ultra realism that audiences want and demand in certain shows, especially military shows.

I think that it will get there.

I think that when that happens, it’s not just a muzzle flash, it’s the ejection of the rounds, it’s the reaction off of the blast of the muzzle, it’s a lot of different things that go on there, but eventually special effects will get there or VFX will get there. When that does, that’s going to be great, because then you will not have to have a live fire on set.


Just like the example I used initially, about the set saying, “We’re not going to use blanks, so now we’re not going to have an armorer at all. But we’re still going to use live weapons.” That is an example of lack of training and education.

At the end of the day, it’s all about Heather, the unions, and everyone else, the states, and everyone else getting together and saying, “Hey, look, we know you’re going to try to save money in places, but you need to be educated and understand what you’re dealing with, what types of persons you need to hire, and more about the things on a set that can affect and harm someone or kill someone if it’s done improperly.” Then, enforce those regulations. You have to have somebody there saying, “Hey, this is what needs to happen.” Then, “We’re going to be keeping a close watch on you to make sure that it does.”


Christopher C. Melcher:

All right, Richard, you’re concluding remarks, and if you’re willing to, predict what’s the outcome of the charges going to be against Alec and Hannah?

Richard Kaplan:

Sure. Well, first off, I’d say everyone on a movie set wants safety. Nobody foresaw this was going to happen and that’s a big, big issue, but here we’re trying to determine who is criminally responsible. Civilly, there’s already been settlements. There’s going to be the payments. It’s a slam dunk, more or less, when something like this happens on a movie set.

It’s not a matter of liability anymore, it’s just a matter of what are the appropriate damages. Everyone has a level of culpability, in something like this.


Alec Baldwin, again, because he had multiple roles on this, certainly had a level of culpability and that’s why he settled his civil suit so quickly, because that was a really a smart thing to do. What do I think is going to happen?

It is okay to be so stressed and overwhelmed that you feel like you need to talk to someone about it, and by that, I mean going to therapy.

Richard Kaplan:

First, let’s start with Ms. Gutierrez-Reed. I wouldn’t be surprised if she did take some kind of a plea, especially if they offered her something or she’s not going to get any custodial time. She might have to take some kind of felony with probation. Wouldn’t shock me. I think there are defenses for her, like I said. I think she made a lot of efforts to try to get things right. She was pulled out by other people who were her supervisors. Should she have left? We can all say that, but by not leaving, are we saying that is criminal? Is that such a bad thing? So willful and such a complete disregard by leaving that? She doesn’t know what’s going to happen, she leaves that weapon there. Now, again, we understand you leave a weapon unattended what could happen, but is it rise to the level of willful disregard for human life to go and do another task? I’m not sure it does, so I think there is a defense there.

I think, with Baldwin, it is defensible, at the end of the day, despite his statements. They’re going to cause him a little more trouble. He didn’t believe there was a live round.


He never really had any good reason to believe. Unless we hear a lot more stories and verification that there was a lot of live rounds and shooting going off on the set, that’s going to be a different set of facts. I’ve not seen that verified. There were some accidents, both were with blanks.

I think, at the end of the day, if I’m going to make a prediction, he’s going to get acquitted.

Christopher C. Melcher:

If he takes it all away.

My prediction is that, yes, I agree on Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, that she would accept some kind of plea bargain, because she doesn’t have the ability to pay for criminal defense attorneys as Alec does.


But Alec is facing a five year mandatory sentence, if he is convicted of the manslaughter with the firearm enhancement. If he totally lost, he’s looking at five years, so my sense is he’ll take some kind of plea along the lines that David Halls did with the negligent handling of a firearm. But we will see.


I really appreciate everyone attending. This has been a huge amount of attendance on this. A super important issue. Again, I hope that we achieved our goal of giving a vigorous debate on this in a way that pays respect to Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza and Alec and everyone else involved in this. You’ve been watching the Rust, Baldwin, Lessons From a Tragedy. This has been a production of Beverly Hills Bar Association‘s Entertainment, Law, and Criminal Law Sections. If you’re watching on YouTube, please go ahead and subscribe to BHBA, and if you want further information, go ahead and go to bhba.org. I’m Christopher Melcher of top family law firm Walzer Melcher Yoda LLP. Thank you so much, for joining us.