It is New Mexico in 2003 and Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan) is packing up her life, and job as a lawyer to move herself and her son to LA. Joint custody with her ex means a complete overhaul which includes starting a new job at a firm specialising in Immigration Law. Judy, nicknamed Saint Judy, is more than up for the job but this is a place where cases are more likely to be rubber-stamped than thoroughly investigated. But that's not how Judy works and insisting that the client always comes first, she takes on her first case.
That case is about Asefa Ashwari (Leem Lubany), a teacher from Afghanistan who is facing deportation. Meeting her in the detention center, Judy is appalled by the state she is in, drugged up and unable to even speak. Demanding that she undergo a clinical evaluation, Asefa is eventually weaned off all the drugs and able to participate in her own defense. But the time involved in trying to get asylum for Asefa, results in Judy getting fired. Unstoppable, she then opens her own small practice, attempting to help as many people as possible with their immigration issues.
As the case with Asefa goes to court it is clear that when she was arrested for teaching girls, considered a crime against God in Afghanistan, the police beat, tortured and raped her. Even the prosecuting attorney (Common) and Judge Benton (Alfre Woodard from Juanita) have every sympathy. The issue is that in 2003, US laws on asylum did not recognise women as a minority and therefore they were not a protected class. As such Asefa Ashwari must return to Afghanistan.
Unwilling to give up, Judy Wood takes the case to the 9th Circuit Court, pleading a case that in teaching young girls, Asefa Ashwari was a political activist and was a protected minority. And she wins. In doing so Judy Wood single-handedly changed United States asylum law to include women as part of the protected class.
Saint Judy is a really solid drama that depicts the struggles of one woman and her client who take on the US legal system. Highlighting her struggles with family and financial commitments, it is a well thought out movie that leaves you feeling quite inspired. However, while the story is good, because it's true, and the acting is commendable, it's all very simplified. There's no real gravitas and it really could have been a made for tv movie. But it is uplifting and powerful in its message so definitely worth a watch.