Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Books That Matter – The Appeal

Having written a novel about a court case involving multinational corporations as the Goliath to the little guy’s David, there is no way I couldn’t enjoy this novel. I happen to love John Grisham’s legal thrillers, both the stories themselves and his tight writing technique.

I believe The Appeal (click here for synopsis) is important as it focuses on the ability of those with money and power to manipulate the legal and political systems. What gave it particular validity for me was a review by a 30 year litigator.

H. Lehmann has worked… as a plaintiffs’ trial lawyer, having worked in that capacity for well more than three decades. I’ve directly handled or closely supervised more than 1600 civil matters, and have had good outcomes on all but a tiny few, partly because of having a “no asshole rule,” about the clients our office will accept. In the past, I’ve been disappointed and offended by some of John Grisham’s books, as he has often characterized tawdry and wrongful conduct by lawyers, including the plaintiffs bar, as though such conduct were common, when, in my experience, the opposite is true.

No system is perfect, but few that I’ve known from my generation of lawyers chose the law with money as a primary motive, and those that focused on that have not tended towards competency or guts. Consistent with his apparent belief in redemption, Grisham has redeemed himself from the uninformed callousness shown in some other works. This tale of the human spirit, and of evil, is an accurate portrait of very real problems faced by our society, issues and problems that the general public barely even imagines.

The Supreme Court election which is central to this story is reminiscent of what happened in California, in 1986, when the then-governor, Mr. Dukemajian, working with ideas from a major Republican PR firm, and as orchestrated by a campaign professional from San Francisco, at a cost of many millions, convinced the people to refuse re-election to three purportedly “liberal,” Supreme Court Justices, Bird, Reynoso, and Grodin, based on their alleged hostility to the death penalty. In fact, the support for the process came from the insurance industry, which sought, with ultimate success (through Judges with insurance backgrounds) to undue several cases which had been to the benefit of insurance consumers, notably Royal Globe vs. Butte (construing Insurance Code 790.03 (h) in a way that forced fair settlements), Paul vs. State Farm and Davis vs. State Farm, cases which were de-certified for publication (erasing them from the law by fiat of the Chief Justice), where those published appellate decisions had found a fiduciary level of relationship between the carrier and the insured.

These humane cases had cost the insurance industry, by insisting on fairness, and through politics, these cases were undone. The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court resigned his position, I believe for personal reasons, about six months after an official determination that, no, strictly speaking, he had not violated ethical standards by taking all expenses paid trips from major insurance companies at the same time he was making decisions which happened to be on their behalf.

My familiarity with this comes from deep practice experience in the affected areas, including involvement with two of the major cases which were de-certified by this process. The law was politicized, and still has not reached the impartiality that was present when I was originally in practice, though there have been, in fairness, genuine strides away from the dark. This story, in fiction, illustrates what is at stake when greedy preoccupation with material gain is allowed to have its way with law. Also, the legal analysis and issue handling shows a level of practical depth seldom seen in fiction. For these reasons, I have just purchased an additional copy of this book for our long time exchange student from Germany, as she is entering law school next year, and I do not know of a better tale to warn of the dangers which society faces when the high calling of honorable legal practice is subjugated to the goals of those who hold money as a life goal. This is an important and worthwhile book.”

Makes one want to read more legal fiction as a porthole into the reality that is so often hidden from us. Anyone read The Accidental Activist?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

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