book reviews

Mistrial – book review


Good trial lawyers tell pretty good stories.

Mistrial by Mark Geragos and Pat Harris is a nonfiction book of pretty good short stories tied together with a more lofty agenda: addressing  the institutional erosion of the defense of reasonable doubt.

Here are the good things about the book:  It is written in a punchy attention grabbing style and the stories are of the sensational variety.   Both lawyers know what they’re talking about.

They lay out their insights – bam – right between the eye brows.  Like this:

[V]ery few young men and women who graduate from law school will ever try a case.  Some of them end up in areas of law where trials are virtually nonexistent, such as intellectual property or antitrust.  Others go into large law firms where they are never the ones allowed to actually try a case.  But many are frankly just too scared to do it.  There are a large number of lawyers, many calling themselves trial lawyers, who are petrified of going to trial.  You can identify the really nervous ones because they are always the biggest blowhards, screaming and threatening that if they don’t get what they want the will just go to trial.  Invariably if you look at them and say, “Okay, let’s pick a jury,” they fold like a cheap suit.

That really is quite clever.

They go after obnoxious people.  Like Nancy Grace.  Even though I don’t watch t.v. at home, I’ve been unable to escape her many nights on the treadmill at the gym.  They lay it all out there like this:

Grace was once a Georgia prosecutor known for being tough and for committing multiple acts of prosecutorial misconduct.  “Prosecutorial misconduct” is legalese for saying she lied and cheated.  In fact, appellate courts in Georgia found that she had committed prosecutorial misconduct three separate times in a nine-year career.

So the book is quite entertaining.

Yet one of the authors’ missions is to change the way people think about the criminal justice system.  To heighten awareness as to its increasingly lopsided nature.  And to perhaps influence future jury pools. By reminding them of the importance of proving beyond a reasonable doubt.

This doesn’t happen.  It can’t happen.  Because the authors are dedicated fighters for the defense.  The book is written to highlight their point of view.  It is not subtle.  It doesn’t pretend to be objective.  And as all trial lawyers know – people won’t change their minds just because you tell them to.

This one gets a B-.  It would have been better if Geragos and Harris could have spent more time on it.  But hey – they’re in-demand trial lawyers.  So the fact they squeezed out any time to write this is deserving of applause.

The best life story ever

Steve_Jobs_by_Walter_Isaacson-thumb-300x480-17455Am going to fall asleep at the wheel driving up to Whistler unless can find something to…keep me awake.   My kids apparently have their own lives and are not coming with me.

Decide to get a book on CD rom.  Have never done this before.  Go to Barnes and Noble.  Grab Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson.  It is very large.  20 CDs.  That should keep my eyes open.

By the time the Whistler trip is successfully over, have made it through seven of the twenty discs.  Since it is a four hour trip both ways plus border wait time, that’s not much progress.

Is it good you wonder?  Have spent the last week and a half impatient to get into the car to listen to more.   Am now  on number 15.  Will probably go into withdrawals when this is over.

Am  absolutely hooked.  Fascinated, intrigued, mesmerized, wickedly delighted with the story of Jobs.

Frank to the point of utter rudeness.  Regardless of who you were.  Autocratic but open to criticism.  Possessing of a cold and unblinking stare.  Crying during business meetings.  Utterly obsessed with the smallest of details.  Fixated always on the ultimate goal. Brilliant.  Petulant.  Madly in love one moment.  Ignoring his beloved the next.  Oh!  The dichotomies.  The dysfunction.  The drama.  All set within the stage of the computer revolution.

You must read (or listen to) it.

Grade A+.

Cross-Examination Handbook

cross-book-cover-thumb-174x250-13836Ron Clark is a blogging buddy and a distinguished practitioner in residence at Seattle U.  Talk about a cool job.

He sent me his latest book that he wrote with one of my dear friends Bill Bailey (and a third author George Dekle):  Cross-Examination Handbook.

It is not as small as my hand however.

At almost 400 pages and with a CD of case files it is safe to say that this is an exhaustive reference book and practice manual.

I like that it is not just line after line of text.  There are pictures in it (O-Jay for one).  Cute little boxes highlight techniques like – “Impeachment by contradiction.”  And my favorite – “Don’t Stop: the liar-liar technique.”

This is a law book written by actual attorneys who have practice law.  [No offense meant to the purely academic writers].  This book transcends what a person can learn in law school.  It takes you right into the courtroom.

The Help

thehelp-thumb-198x300-7983The first book I read on my new Kindle (thanks Laurie and Greg), is The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Set in the 60s in racist Jackson Mississippi, it weaves the tale of a White woman writer named Skeeter.   Skeeter is a member of the White social clique, but begins to splinter off and away from her friends.  She gravitates towards the Black maids, in part because she does not know what happened to her own (her mother plays a hand in this).

The maids are led by Aibileen and Minny.  At first they don’t want to tell their stories to the White woman.  They eventually do so after a series of injustices that begin with a separate toilet campaign by Ms. Hilly.

I liked the book.  Thought some of the characters should have been developed a bit more. I’d give it a B-.


My sister Susan gave me this book last time I was in L.A.  The cover is a still from the movie of the same name starring the writer of the book – Steve Martin.  I almost never read a book that has a movie for its cover.  But Pooh (some nicknames are meant to last forever) tells me I’ll like it.  Plus this is a novella – not a book – since it is only 130 pages long.
B000EDWKX8_01__SCLZZZZZZZ_-210x300 Mirabella works at Neiman Marcus in the glove department.  If you picture that whole set up in your mind, you know just how exciting that must be.  She is a lovely, unenlightened, repressed, solitary figure who has a fling with Jeremy because she wants to feel the warmth of a human hug; then later enchants a letch named Ray Porter.  Who will she end up with hmmmmm…..  The narrator speaks in a voice that does not really interface with the characters.  It is an objective, removed voice that is amused in a matter of fact sort of way.  The prose is pretty and clever but never cutesy.  There are no gags.  Just astute, simple sentences that eventually enchant me. “Jeremy arrives thirty minutes later and leans against the wall with a slouch so extreme that he appears to have left his skeleton at home.”  Can’t you just picture Steve Martin writing that. I don’t plan on seeing the movie.  These characters are fully formed in my mind and I don’t want them to change. I’ll give this book a B+.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

I am so enthralled with the first book that I immediately read the second.  Then forget to blog about it.  What sticks out in my mind months later…

This book is the revelation of the genesis of Salander.  She is such an odd, intriguing character.  I don’t totally love her.  Her awkwardness and strangeness borders on the overly contrived.  I’m not sure if the author totally “gets” her.  I mean, what is the point of getting breast implants given her background of trauma and attitude of utter societal defiance. But I want to believe in her so I applaud her feistiness and fortitude. 

Darkness plays perhaps even a greater role here.  This world is more sadistic.  Some of the newly introduced characters are so rotten as to be almost caricatures.  There is no decent human side to them.  They lack a certain dimension.  To me, the best villains are those who have good as well as bad sides.  Because then you  will open your heart to them.  You will feel a certain amount of mixed emotion when they get their just rewards.  Here, there is no emotion other than – what a creepy awful person yuck.

I don’t remember much else.   When I read a book,  I can hear, feel, and see that world better than if it were a movie.  When I’m done, I’m done.  I don’t hold onto memories.  The characters don’t continue to reside in me. I close the book, and put it away.  And in this case, I give it a B.

a mercy

I read this book by Toni Morrison on the plane ride back and forth to Lewiston ID.   Set in the late1600s it is told about and through the voices, thoughts and dreams of a farmer/trader, his wife, a young slave girl Florens, two other women slaves, and a free blacksmith.  Sometimes you lose track of who is narrating.  It is poetical, emotional and elemental.  Interestingly the two main male characters are perhaps in someways the most decent.   The story builds to a conclusion that encapsulates the core essence of the main characters  and and the circle that they have found themselves within.  It deserves an A-.

Their eyes were watching God

“Every morning the world flung itself over and exposed the town to the sun.  So Janie had another day.”

Written in 1937 by Zora Neale Hurston this story transported me.   It also made me very glad that I was not born before my time.  

Most of the tale is told in indigenous prose.  “Hambo said, ‘Yo’ wife is uh born orator, Starks.  Us never knowed dat befo’.  She put jus’ de right words tuh our thought.” 

After a page of stumbling thru the lingo, you get sucked up into another lifetime.    It deserves an A.

eat pray love

Ok, I resist reading this book because it just seems a bit too “touchy feely” even for me.  But there it is, beckoning to me on an airport store shelf.  Plus I love Julia Roberts and have every intention of seeing the movie…so…  The author, Elizabeth Gilbert takes us thru the traumas of her self absorption.  From her neurotic yet intelligent viewpoint, she takes us on a journey of self enlightenment that sometimes jars my nerves so greatly that I skip a page .  She has such a restless tortured spirit for so much of the book that I feel myself becoming aggravated.  Still, she is so vulnerable in laying bare her angst, that I give her points for the sheer audacity of coming forward with it all. 

The story begins with the demise of her marriage, which she does not really describe.  I could see doing this if there were children involved – you would want to protect them.  But there are no children.  Considering this is a “tell all”, it makes no sense to skip the details of the dying marriage.  After all, that is the seminal event that spurs the one year hiatus to Italy, India and Bali.  Talking about episodes of “crying on the bathroom floor” doesn’t count.  All in all, there are thought provoking moments. And I generally liked the style of her self-deprecating writing – though there were too many metaphores.  I’ll give it a B.

The Girl with the dragon tattoo

This book got better and better so that by page 300 I couldn’t wait to turn the page.    It played out in my mind like a movie – more focused on plot twists  than in depth character development.  There are two heroes – Blomkvist the polyanna reporter and Salander the social outcast rogue investigator.  I wasn’t prepared for the sadism since I didn’t read any reviews.  So be warned – it is gross in places.  Which of course makes it even more scintillating.   Once the main conflict resolves the story line fizzles out to a rather unsatisfying ending.  Still it was remarkably entertaining.   I’ll give it a B+.

Check out a recent interview by Super Lawyers about my blog. Yes, I'm a lawyer. But I'm also a human being. I have a doggie named Nala, three daughters, eat brown sugar cinnamon pop tarts for breakfast, and wear jeans as often as possible when not in court.
Favorite Quotations

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
— Nelson Mandela

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've to say, and say it hot.
— D. H. Lawrence

Why slap them on the wrist with a feather when you can belt them over the head with a sledgehammer.
— Katharine Hepburn

Truth, when not sought after, rarely comes to light.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.
— Langston Hughes

There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.
— Jane Austen

Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality. — Edgar Allan Poe

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, wouldn't you, at any time? And you would achieve nothing! — Margaret Thatcher

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
— Dr. Suess

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.
— Abraham Lincoln

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. — Desmond Tutu

True eloquence consists in saying all that is required and only what is required. — La Rochefoucauld

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. — Aesop

The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free. — Oprah Winfrey

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative. — Woody Allen

The soul never thinks without a picture. — Aristotle

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. — William Shakespeare

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. — Muhammad Ali

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. — Stephen Hawking

It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand. — Apache proverb

People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost. — Dalai Lama

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
— Anne Frank

Learn to laugh; it is a discipline to be mastered. Let go of the everlasting burden of always needing to sound profound. — Richard J. Foster

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. — Albert Einstein

Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain. — Helen Keller

Remember that lost time does not return. — Thomas á Kempis

If thou faint in the day of adversity thy strength is small. — Proverbs 24:10

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. — Gertrude Stein

It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom. — Albert Einstein

The right of trial by jury shall be preserved. — 7th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees. — Ludacris

And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more.
— Erica Jong

Words are chameleons, which reflect the color of their environment. — Judge Learned Hand

You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefullness, But still, like air, I'll rise. — Maya Angelou

The moment that justice must be paid for by the victim of injustice it becomes itself injustice. — Benjamin Tucker

He who keeps his eye on results cannot give himself wholeheartedly to his task, however simple or complex that task may be. — Howard Thurman

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. — Mahatma Ghandi

Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. — Flannery O'Connor

We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles. — Jimmy Carter

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. — Simone Weil

It is not the level of prosperity that makes for happiness but the kinship of heart to heart and the way we look at the world. — Alexander Solzhenitsyn

It is high time that the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service. — Albert Einstein

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. — Elie Wiesel

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. — Bill Cosby

The time is always right to do what is right. — Martin Luther King Jr.

I had rather attempt something great and fail, than to attempt nothing at all and succeed. — Robert Schuller

It is very easy to break down something. You can take a stone and throw it through that window; that is easy. Try fixing it, and that takes longer. It takes longer to help someone who has been broken. That’s the work you’re doing. — Desmond Tutu

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. — Annie Dillard

Mine honor is my life; both grow in one; Take honor from me, and my life is done. — William Shakespeare

To straighten the crooked you must first do a harder thing – straighten yourself. — Buddha

A thought is an idea in transit. — Pythagoras

Fall seven times, stand up eight. — Old Japanese proverb

No generalization is wholly true, not even this one. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Of what use is eloquence? He who engages in fluency of words to control men often finds himself hated by them. — Confucius

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. — Martha Graham