October, 2009 Books
Reviewed by David Mandell
Kyle McAvoy is headed for big things. A third-year law student and law review editor at Yale, McAvoy has a bright future. Job offers from Wall Street law firms promise a starting salary dwarfing what his father, a veteran attorney in York, Pennsylvania, could ever earn. Public interest groups also seek him, proposing a few years of challenging work before the move to Wall Street.
McAvoy’s future changes forever on a cold New Haven day. A mysterious man named Benny follows him from a basketball game and confronts him with a cell phone video made during a night Kyle prefers to forget. As an undergraduate at Duquesne University five years earlier, Kyle and his roommates hosted a party, with most of the revelers becoming drunk. A female student, Elaine Keenan, claimed that she was sexually assaulted, but Pittsburgh police dropped the investigation, unable to determine whether the incident was consensual or forced. Having passed out in the haze of alcohol, Kyle has no memory of the alleged assault and was not accused of directly participating in it. Benny reminds the star law student that he could still be deemed an accomplice and that the statute of limitations has years left to run.
In Grisham fashion, Benny has a sinister offer for Kyle. If Kyle cancels his plans of public interest law and joins a Wall Street firm, Scully Pershing, the video will disappear. If he passes on the Scully Pershing job, the video may surface on the Internet or be sent to the Elaine’s tenacious lawyer. Kyle will face years of prosecution, civil litigation, and humiliation, with his reputation destroyed. Kyle’s career will die before it even gets started.
Benny’s choice of Scully Pershing is no accident. Scully Pershing represents a defense contractor in a bitter law suit with a rival. Kyle’s position with Scully Pershing will enable him to gather documents and deliver them to Benny. If caught, Kyle will be disbarred and disgraced. If he doesn’t do as Benny demands, the video is lurking, ready for release. Kyle succumbs and to the shock of his father and friends, chooses corporate law over public interest practice.
While the opening moves swiftly in typical Grisham style, much of The Associate feels as if it has been rushed to meet a publication deadline. Once Kyle is at the law firm, the plot follows earlier thrillers like The Firm and The Pelican Brief. A young lawyer or law student uncovers a secret and must outwit ominous corporate forces who possess unlimited resources. Turning to law enforcement would be the logical solution to Kyle’s problems, but the FBI agents are again portrayed as clumsy bunglers. Kyle must rely on his own wits to escape Benny and his henchmen.
Characters are introduced, but then jettisoned. Kyle’s romance with a fellow associate, Dale, ends abruptly with Dale relocating to Providence. There are hints that Benny works for a foreign government but the topic is left dangling.
Grisham remains an excellent storyteller, and if you haven’t read his earlier books, The Associate is still entertaining. Those who have read the books will not find much new. In recent years Grisham has ventured away from the legal thrillers and produced three fine nonlawyer novels, A Painted House, Bleachers, and Playing for Pizza. His last book, The Appeal, succeeds because while still a lawyer-oriented story, it avoids the chase genre that has run its course.
The current economic climate has already made The Associate outdated in several respects. Huge Wall Street law firms that appear so mighty in The Associate have struggled to survive. Several have gone out of business and others have shed hundreds of associates and partners. In the age of T.A.R.P., the abusive billing practices in The Associate would never be tolerated.
Mr. Grisham has a large and loyal following and in this difficult marketplace it’s understandable why his publisher would want him to return to the sure thing of legal thrillers. He has proven he can write other types of books and I wish he would keep doing that and retire the thrillers.
The Associate is published by Doubleday.
David Mandell is a Florida Bar member living in Norwich, CT.
Reviewed by Jan Pudlow
Chapter One screeches open with a judge drawing a handgun from beneath his black robe and ordering a troubled trial lawyer to strip naked and spread his cheeks to see if he’s wearing a wire.
Fast-paced Illegal, a thriller with a social conscience, just gets more riveting from there.
Right away, you learn that California lawyer Jimmy Payne, recruited by the cops to bribe a bad judge in a sting operation, wears red-and-white boxers with the Los Angeles Clippers logo because he favors underdogs.
That’s because he can relate.
These days, after the death of his son and demise of his marriage, Payne is not on top of his game and could really use a good murder client “or a personal injury case with fractures to weight-bearing bones.”
Instead, his clients are assorted drunks and check bouncers and hookers, and “Royal Payne” has too much time on his hands.
His bookshelves are lined with Scott Turow and George V. Higgins. “Crime stories well told. Payne didn’t like those courtroom novels where the lawyers were heroes. Too unrealistic.”
Yet, in Levine’s well-told crime story, you immediately care about his flawed protagonist who escapes a jail sentence for contempt of court and winds up flung into the underbelly of illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico into California, trapped in human trafficking and sexual slavery.
Through it all, when Payne actually does become something of a hero, it rings true because the well-crafted characters in Illegal are robustly layered, nakedly human, and starkly real.
Levine is a Florida Bar member who lives in California and is an award-winning author of legal thrillers, who wrote for the CBS military drama “JAG.” Levine’s Web page — www.paul-levine.com — says he’s worked as a newspaper reporter, law professor, and trial lawyer before becoming a full-time novelist. “Obviously, he cannot hold a job,” he wryly says of himself.
While driving south on California Route 86 through the California desert, nearing Calexico on the Mexican border, Levine describes how he got the idea to write Illegal. Pulling over at a rest stop overlooking the New River, a “steaming current of raw sewage and toxic runoff that flows north from Mexico.. . . Something caught my eye. A woman in her early 30s and a boy of 12 or so were picking their way across the rocks to shore. Backpacks, sneakers, and a gallon jug of water. Judging from the ease with which the woman hefted the jug, it was nearly empty.”
As Levine shouted out, “Hola,” the boy protectively stood in front of his mother who looked at the ground. Levine handed over a Thermos of iced tea and a little cash.
As Levine drove off, the haunting picture of mother and son struggling on their exodus northward was framed in his rear-view mirror.
“I forgot to ask their names, so I gave them new ones: Marisol and Tino Perez. I imagined them wrenched apart in a border crossing gone-to-hell. They became the heart and soul of Illegal. ”
Levine’s imagination goes full-throttle as he spins an authentic account of undocumented Mexicans searching for a piece of the American Dream — and of a cynical, downtrodden lawyer hoping for redemption.
Illegal is available from Bantam Hardcover books (ISBN: 978-0-553-80673-1) for $22.
Jan Pudlow is a senior editor of The Florida Bar News.
Race to Injustice: Lessons Learned from the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case
Edited by Michael L. Seigel
Reviewed by Jan Pudlow
If we should learn from our mistakes, there’s ample opportunity for enlightenment in the notoriously botched Duke lacrosse players’ rape case.
This scholarly, yet easy to read, tome is edited by Michael L. Seigel, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, who assembled the insights of 15 experts in criminal law, First Amendment rights, sociology, psychology, race relations, and the sexual objectification of black women.
From divergent vantage points, they dissect all that went wrong after a group of alcohol-fueled white lacrosse players hired two black exotic dancers to their house party, tempers flared, racial slurs spewed, and prosecutorial misconduct and a multi-million-dollar dream team defense played out under the bright lights of a national media feeding frenzy.
As Seigel writes: “The Duke lacrosse case presents the opportunity to consider a wide range of issues, including alcohol consumption on college campuses; the impact of race, gender, and class on the criminal-justice system and perceptions thereof; the use of DNA evidence and eyewitness-identification procedures in criminal cases; prosecutorial ethics; and even academic freedom. This book aims to capitalize on this unique academic opportunity.”
Besides Seigel’s own chapters, two other UF law professors, Michelle S. Jacobs and Sharon E. Rush, as well as Southern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert L. Luck, bring Florida legal voices into the mix.
Seigel — who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and teaches evidence, criminal law, and white collar crime at UF — said the “book is designed for use mostly in connections with criminal justice or related seminars at the third-year law school or even graduate school level. It could also be used as a supplemental text in criminal law, evidence, or race and the law courses.”
But you don’t have to be a legal scholar to appreciate the outrageous injustice that allowed a rape case to go forward, despite DNA evidence to the contrary. Finally, amid lies and emotions run amok in a racially polarized community, DNA told the truth and blocked the rape convictions of three innocent young men.
As Paul C. Giannelli, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University who served as co-chair of the ABA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Innocence, writes in his chapter on DNA profiling: “Without [DNA evidence], the case may have gone forward as a credibility contest — a ‘he said, she said.’. . . In sum, DNA did its job. Unfortunately, Mike Nifong did not do his.”
So far, Seigel said he has not had the opportunity to use the book in his classroom, but hopes to during a seminar next spring.
He did lecture about the book at the UF law’s centennial celebration last April, when he “focused on the narrative and ethical missteps of Nifong to an audience of 60 UF law alums from all areas of practice.
“I can honestly say that the lecture stirred up more discussion than any other I’ve ever delivered,” Seigel said.
Race to Injustice is a must-read for anyone who cares enough about equal justice in America to admit the criminal justice system is far from perfect and cries out for reform, such as Seigel’s suggestions about fixing a grand jury system that too often rubber-stamps the prosecution’s case.
“The defendants had to endure a miserable and stressful ordeal, but the story ended happily for them,” University of Missouri-Columbia Law Professor Rodney Uphoff writes in his chapter titled, “The Duke Defendants Reaped the Benefits of a Zealous Defense — But Do Only the Rich Get Real Lawyers?”
Race to Injustice is published by Carolina Academic Press, 2009, 434 pp, $40. To order, go to www.cap-press.com.
Wicked Good Secrets
In her flashy, fast-paced cinematic thriller, Janice Law teams a former criminal court judge with a Native American chief to unravel one of America’s most stubborn historic mysteries: the two-century-old disappearance of the U.S. Capitol cornerstone President George Washington laid in 1793.
Law’s riveting narrative weaves a wicked secret, double-encrypted in an 18th century soldier’s diary — with 19th century Vatican art, intersecting under the U.S. Capitol dome, from which a gadfly journalist plunges to his death during a gala reception.
Increasingly dangerous clues climax in dark, isolated Washington, D.C., Congressional Cemetery, where human and nonhuman forces threaten the duo’s quest and their lives.
While styled mainly as an entertainment, Wicked Good Secrets also has serious themes about law, treaties, and Native American history and culture.
Legal terminology proves a key to unlock the mysteries: in pari materia. To understand the meaning of two things that may appear inconsistent, read them together to discern their compatibility.
This is Law’s fifth book and first fiction. Yield: A Judge’s Fir$t-Year Diary (2006) was a finalist for the 2007 book awards in the 2007 Texas Book Festival. The Texas Bar selected her 2008 children’s book Capitol Cat & Watch Dog Unite Lady Freedoms for its law-related education programs for Texas teachers.
Law served as an assistant state attorney in Polk and Broward counties, and is a former Texas criminal court judge and Florida journalist. She is a member of the Florida and Texas bars. www.judgejanicelaw.com. (Eakin Press $19.95.)
Shari B. Olefson
Olefson explains how America slipped to the edge of this dangerous stagnation-recession precipice in Foreclosure Nation: Mortgaging the American Dream. In plain language she clarifies legal and financial terminology and describes how our country’s mortgage system really works and exposes its intrinsic flaws and often discriminatory practices.
She offers tips, tolls, and resources such as:
• Choose a mortgage professional and understand what’s motivating the person.
• Decide what mortgage product fits best and when to refinance.
• Know what to do when you can’t afford your mortgage.
•Understand how to proceed if already in foreclosure.
Olefson pinpoints exactly when and why experts are predicting a recovery and includes graphs of inventory, absorption, and price trends.
Shari B. Olefson is a Florida Bar certified real estate attorney with 20 years of experience in the field. She holds a master of law in real property, land development, and finance from the University of Miami.
The book (514 pages) is published by Prometheus Books, www.prometheusbooks.com and costs $18.98.
Cody Fowler Davis
Tampa trial lawyer Cody Fowler Davis has written his second novel pitting good lawyer against bad, and there’s no doubt who the villain is from the novel’s opening line.
Justin Cartwright III, a win-at-all-costs trial lawyer, stands before the Florida Supreme Court, as the chief justice sternly tells him his license to practice law is suspended for two months.
Since Cartwright has to turn over his current caseload, he has time to sit back in his “oversized leather swivel chair, the command center of his own personal ship” and plot revenge against Anderson Parker, once his protégé who helped land him in ethical hot water.
Payback involves hiring sexy paralegal Nicole, who is enlisted to carry out an evil mission to destroy Cartwright’s straight-arrow rival, Parker. Complicating Parker’s personal life is that his wife is miffed that he’s spending too much time in the office, too focused on seeking justice for his clients.
the time Nicole finishes her devious job on Parker, his marriage and career hang in limbo — until the truth finally prevails.
This suspenseful novel, exposing both the valor and greed of the legal profession, is dedicated to “Big Cody,” Davis’ grandfather and namesake, Cody Fowler, former president of the American Bar Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers.
“He was a lawyer’s lawyer who sought justice for all, not just those who could afford it,” Davis wrote in the dedication.
Go to www.impliedconsentbook.com to order the 263-page hardback for $23.95.