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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Legal Representation in The Color of Law

In my previous post I provided a general review of the legal mystery, The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez. In this post I will be discussing A. Scott Feeney’s representation of Shawanda Jones against murder charges. To have that discussion I may provide more information than readers who have not read the book may want and even spoilers. You are warned.

Scott is faced with a major challenge in framing a defence. Shawanda admits she was with the murder victim, Clark McCall, the night he was killed and that they had a physical confrontation and that her gun was used to kill him. At the same time she insists she did not kill him.

Scott proceeds from an assumption that Shawanda is lying about not killing McCall but that she was acting in self-defence. His client is resolute. She did not kill McCall.

Worried a jury will not believe her and she will be convicted and executed he rightly explores with her and the prosecutor a guilty plea with a lesser penalty.

Ted DiPaulo, defence counsel, in The Guilty Plea by Robert Rosenberg equally looked at a guilty plea for his client, Samantha Wyler, accused of murdering her husband, Terry Wyler. She even brings to his office the bloody knife used to kill her husband.

When a trial risks a far worse sentence than a guilty plea every defence lawyer has discussions with the client on what they could admit to reach a deal.

In the end neither Scott nor Ted can make a deal as each woman refuses to admit killing. A lawyer, even when convinced his client is guilty, is bound to proceed with a trial when his/her client will not admit guilt. They are entitled to their day in court.

While most of The Color of Law deals with the problems for Scott arising from his representation of Shawanda he gradually prepares for trial.

What is barely addressed in the plot before trial is who actually killed McCall. If there is strong evidence against the  accused who is maintaining innocence who was the real killer? The presumption of innocence is useful but judges and juries want to know who is the potential real killer if it is not the accused.

The alternative would not have been needed as much if she had denied being at the murder scene or her gun was not there. With those circumstances the defence, if it does not have an alternative, can still credibly argue the prosecution has not proven the accused was the killer. Famously O.J. Simpson did not need an alternative as he denied being at the scene of the murder.

I knew from early on in the book that Scott would have to put up an alternative to Shawanda killing McCall but none is developed during preparation for trial. My credibility was stretched. What  stretched it to the breaking point, but not further, was the trial in which Scott develops on the fly an alternative with the aid of evidence delivered to him during the trial.

No real life competent lawyer would be working out a theory of the defence in the midst of a trial. There are shifts in strategy in trials as unexpected evidence is heard but it was unbelievable to create a defence in The Color of Law during trial that should have been ready long before trial.

At one point Scott goes fishing for evidence from a hostile witness. A death penalty trial is the worst time for a lawyer to go on a fishing expedition. The approach may have been used to create a defence worthy of Hollywood but it strained belief.

Grisham, a great legal mystery writer, has trials in his books but there is no ad hoc advocacy. Surprises occur and must be dealt with but there is never a fishing expedition.

Scott’s hero (and Gimenez’s hero) is Atticus Finch from To Sing a Mockingbird. Both Scott and his creator would have been well advised to have remembered how Atticus carefully prepared for the defence of Tom Robinson and skillfully carried out his strategy during the trial.

Gimenez could have had as much drama with the development of the alternative killer prior to trial and unfolding the story at trial. Making the defence work in a trial is just as dramatic as coming across it during the trial. 

I want to read a further book in the series to see if Gimenez becomes more realistic in Scott’s representation of clients.
Gimenez, Mark - (2017) - The Color of Law


  1. This line of your review "No real life competent lawyer would be working out a theory of the defence in the midst of a trial." made me chuckle Bill as that seems to happen an awful lot in fiction, especially TV and movies featuring legal cases.

    1. Bernadette: Thanks for the comment. For some reason I expect more from writers of legal fiction than makers of TV shows and movies presenting legal cases.

  2. Thanks, Bill, for your thoughts on this. It's interesting to learn more about how lawyers work with clients when there's so much evidence implicating the client. And I know what you mean about stretching credibility too far. It really does take away from a story when the professionals in it don't act in the way real-life professionals would.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I look forward to the legal mystery that focuses on the dramas of lawyers pleading guilty for clients and working to get a just sentence.

  3. A late arrival here Bill - I have now read this book, and came back to see what you said about it! I was glad to find that your legal expertise said what I expected: the book rattled along nicely, but seemed something of a fairytale. And the fact that no-one ever asked the question 'who else might have done it?' seemed unlikely. The alternative came up very late! but I enjoyed it as a light read, thanks for the tipoff.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I am glad you enjoyed the book. It could have been equally suspenseful with a few tweaks of the plot towards reality.