(20. – 950.) Exposed by Lisa Scottoline – Philadelphia lawyer, Mary DiNunzio, has spent her life within the loving confines of the close-knit Italian community in South Philadelphia. Family extends out to include neighbourhood friends.
Mary’s father, Tony, arrives at her office for a consultation. With him are his best friends – The Three Tonies:
Her father had grown up with The Tonys; Tony “From-Down-The-Block” Lomonaco, “Pigeon” Tony Lucia, and Tony “Two Feet” Pensiera, which got shortened to “Feet,” so even his nickname had a nickname. It went without saying that name traditions in South Phlly were sui generis which was Latin for completely insane. The Tonys went everywhere with her father and sometimes helped her on her cases, which was liking having a secret weapon or a traveling nightmare.
They have come to ask her to help Feet’s son, her unofficial cousin Simon, who has been dismissed by his employer, OpenSpace, an office cubicle manufacturing company.
Simon is already in the midst of a personal crisis. His wife has died and his young daughter, Rachel, is in need of a bone marrow transplant.
When Mary hears he was fired because his employer was concerned about the costs of the costs to the company health insurance because of Rachel’s medical condition Mary sees an excellent case for wrongful dismissal.
In her enthusiasm and desire to support her family and community Mary makes a fundamental mistake for any lawyer in a private law firm larger than one. Without doing a conflict review within the firm she commits to representing him.
When she advises her partner, Bennie Rosato, of the new case she learns to her dismay that Bennie is the long time lawyer for Dumbarton Industries, the parent company to Simon’s employer.
A huge ethical issue must be addressed. One lawyer cannot represent a client in a lawsuit against another client of the firm. There is a conflict of interest between the respective clients. Firms of every size require conflicts checks before taking on new cases.
Leaving aside the plausibility of Mary taking on a case without determining if there was a conflict I was surprised to learn the issue is not as clear cut as I expected where one of the clients is the parent company to the company being sued as is the case in Mary’s action.
What Mary’s action inevitably provokes is the question whether Mary and Bennie can remain partners. Mary has acted precipitously, if not recklessly, and while there may be legal authority for being able to sue Open Spaces even though Bennie represents the parent company there are serious issues for the partnership. Law partners must trust each other and cannot be worried a partner will take up a case that may casuse a conflict with other clients of the firm. Taking the case against a client is further bound to have an adverse effect upon the firm’s relationship with the existing client.
In Exposed the owner of Dumbarton is Nate Lence, who Bennie has known since law school. He is incensed that Bennie will not forthwith prohibit Mary from taking the case. Bennie explains to her lover, Declan, Lence’s reaction:
…. “He wouldn’t normally, but this time, he’s taking it
“Because you’re involved. Hell hath no fury like a lawyer
To Scottoline’s credit Mary and Bennie remain respectful of each other as they determine whether there is a way for their partnership to survive. Both accept the other is honourable and not out to hurt the other partner.
As they wrestle with the question of conflict of interest the sales manager of Open Space is killed and Simon is the leading suspect.
I was startled by the murder. I had been caught up in the story of the civil action for wrongful dismissal, the transplant drama of Rachel and the conflict of interest issue. I had no need of a murder to keep me engrossed. If anything, I found the murder a distraction.
Scottoline’s resolution of the murder is cleverly done. Mary and Bennie use their legal skills to determine the real killer.
The conclusion was more Hollywood than I prefer in a book but the thriller conclusion was again well done by Scottoline.
You cannot describe Exposed as a light read with the serious legal issues addressed in the plot and a murder being solved. At the same time it was easy reading.
There are precious few works of legal fiction that emphasize positive family relationships. Mary’s family, official and unofficial, are warm emotional people. Most lawyers I know have such families. I wish more of them were created in legal fiction.
Exposed is the second book from the 2018 shortlist for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction I have read. I enjoyed the book.