Moving through the second half of the alphabet we have reached “R” on Kerrie Smith’s The Alphabet in Crime Fiction 2012 meme at Mysteries in
Paradise. I am glad to profile another Canadian lawyer in his 50’s who practises criminal law – Robert Rotenberg.
He has acquired numerous life experiences beyond being a lawyer. As set out on his website he undertook numerous types of work seeking to avoid the practice of law. He has driven a cab, edited an English magazine in Paris called Passion, co-created and published a magazine back in Canada called T.O. – The Magazine of Toronto, been a film producer and worked as radio producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Finally at 37 broke again (he had never succeeded in doing better than surviving) and a child on the way he became a lawyer.
While practising law he channelled his writing passions into a film script and then fiction. He was not an overnight success. He says on his website:
My first book was good enough to get me an agent in New York. But not good enough. The day I was told it hadn’t sold, I immediately started Old City Hall. It was 2001. By 2004 I’d hit a wall, with the book half done. I took a nine-day writing course at Humber College and worked with two talented writers, David Bezmozgis and Michelle Berry, who were most generous with their time.
He gained a publisher through the aid of another author, Douglas Preston, who had married his wife’s best friend. Rotenberg and
Preston became friends. When Preston read the completed he was impressed and helped find a major literary agent who liked the book and engineered a bidding war between publishers. Old City Hall
Among Rotenberg’s most interesting characteristics are his strong opinions.
From the Canadian magazine,
McLeans’ on interviewing new clients charged with crimes:
That’s because everybody lies, although mostly by omission, because everybody has something or someone to protect, he says, and at first they think they can. “When people come to my office, they’re in shock, and I don’t let them talk about their case at all, which drives them crazy because that’s all they want to talk about. But I don’t want them to commit to their stories. It takes a while before they learn that in the criminal justice system you can’t have any secrets.”
From the newspaper, The
Star, on information from clients: Toronto
"You know, Mark Twain once said – and it's a great line – `People are like the moon. You only see half of them.'"
Also from The Toronto Star on the judicial system:
But it is also a place where truth and justice are not always possible, given human nature, he suggests. "We live in a world where everyone wants answers for everything. And we want the justice system to provide all the answers. But the reality is, we live in an ambiguous world."
With regard to seeing clients charged with family abuse he said in the newspaper, The Globe and Mail:
"For the first 72 hours, I would say every man who contacts me is in extreme shock and depression," Mr. Rotenberg says. "A lot of them are suicidal. These are normal people who love their children. Their lives have been ripped apart. The criminal justice system is a sledgehammer. When it gets involved in people's lives, it is as if you've dropped a bomb into their marriage. You have marriages ending after 18 years because someone reached out and grabbed an arm."
He is far from politically correct continuing:
"There is zero tolerance for men, but there is no zero tolerance for women," Mr. Rotenberg asserts. "Police are reluctant to charge women. In fact, I can't remember a women being charged unless there was a physical injury. Whereas, men are charged all the time without there being a physical injury."
I have enjoyed all 3 of his books –
, The Guilty Plea and Stray Bullets. He is among the most realistic of writers of legal fiction about what really happens in and out of the courtroom. Those writers who bend or break the rules of what happens in court or preparation for court would do well to read Rotenberg. His books are full of drama while remaining accurate. Old City Hall
You can find links to his books and some very candid Q and A by clicking on either the Rest of Canada or Legal Mysteries.
Of the trio I think
is best. It was 2nd on my Best of 2012 for fiction. Old City Hall