Following a personal tradition I have read the shortlist for the 2018 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and posted reviews of the individual book and will now put forward my choice for winner.
The shortlist was composed of:
1.) Proof by C.E. Tobisman;
2.) Testimony by Scott Turow; and,
3.) Exposed by Lisa Scottoline.
The actual winner was Proof by C.E. Tobisman.
I completed reading the books on the shortlist earlier this week. All were good books.
It does seem that the “thrillerization” of American crime fiction now includes legal mysteries. All three books had distinct elements of the thriller in their plots. At times each of the lawyers was far from the courtroom in their actions.
In considering which book I thought should have won the Award I look at the key Award criterion which sets out the Award is to go “to a book length work of fiction that best illuminates the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change”.
Proof is the story of Caroline Auden, a solo practitioner in Los Angeles who engages in a quest to prove a huge charitable organization, Oasis, is engaged in systemic elder abuse.
The press release announcing the winner said with regard to Proof:
‘The Selection Committee praised the novel for advancing Lee’s legacy and her charge to award legal fiction that shows how lawyers can change society.
“‘Proof’ best captures the spirit of iconic characters, role of the legal profession in addressing social issues, and the concluding legal monologue of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘Go Set A Watchman,’ ” Green said. “Caroline Auden is the perfect cross between lawyer Atticus Finch and the grown up Scout.”
It was very interesting to read of Auden’s computer skills in doing research for evidence and how she lived on the streets of Los Angeles with her Uncle Hitch when a killer was searching for her.
With regard to law Auden’s cause in challenging elder abuse is righteous but I struggle with her “role” as she engages in computer hacking in her good cause. I accept lawyers breaking the law can create dramatic legal fiction but I do not think such conduct “best illuminates the role of lawyers in society”.
Further if the power of lawyers “to effect change” comes from breaking the law we are on our way to ending “The Rule of Law” so painfully constructed over the last 800 years.
And what is the purpose of the oaths for lawyers being admitted to practice law in which they swear to uphold the law if they gain praise and reward for breaking the law?
Testimony by Scott Turow featured a middle aged mid-American male lawyer, Bill ten Boom, who joins the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He has been chosen to investigate the alleged mass murder of 400 Roma in Bosnia long after the end of the cruel war that divided that nation.
In his position he illustrates the role of lawyers in seeking to impose justice through an international court which will try those who have committed crimes against humanity.
Can lawyers and judges deter the next megalomaniac dictator from committing mass murder? I liked Boom’s reply to that question:
"How's this, Goos? I know this much: Justice is good. I accept the value of testimony, of letting victims be heard. But consequences are essential. People can't believe in civilization without being certain that a society will organize itself to do what it can to make wrongs right. Allowing the slaughter of four hundred innocents to go unpunished demeans the lives each of us leads. It's that simple."
If we are to strive for a world that has accountability for state mass murder we need such lawyers and judges.
In Exposed by Lisa Scottoline her counsel, Mary DeNunzio, commences a lawsuit against a company which has fired an employee with a desperately ill daughter. The company is seeking to contain its health insurance costs by ridding itself of an employee whose child is bound to bring about increased expense.
Through the court action DeNunzio is attempting to bring change in health coverage for workers by challenging corporations denying health benefits due employees and their families.
Of all the books she is the lawyer most directly attempting to “effect change” for her court action seeks to use a federal statute on disabilities to prevent an employer from firing an employee over health insurance costs.
Of the books I thought Testimony best met the criterion of the “role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change”. I would have chosen it for the Award. Proof and Exposed had lawyers, like myself, representing individuals taking on corporations trying to take advantage of people. Testimony had a bigger cause in working to change the world.