An insider’s view of the American legal system—that Bleak House–ish black hole—rendered for the laypeople.
New York lawyer Curto—whose client list has included Yoo-hoo, Monsignor Tom Hartman and Paula Abdul—is a respected community advocate who’s earned many honors. His book is both an overview of his 50-year career and a lively prescriptive for working through the issues that mire our courts. Central is the author’s keen analysis of a 1960 lawsuit that accused Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of defaming Esther James, his elderly constituent from Harlem. After much delay and misdirection, Powell was convicted and ordered to pay damages, but through a combination of appeals and outlandish human errors, he mostly avoided doing so in a timely manner. Powell’s arrogance and ability to work the system are appalling but hardly unique—then or now. To combat such abuse, Curto outlines a series of “Time Fixes” designed to expedite due process by expanding and updating the court system, codifying monetary awards and enforcing court decisions. But the book is more than an eloquent panacea. At its best, Curto’s deft handling of the social and legal complexities behind James v. Powell, as well as cases concerning folk singer Harry Chapin and Russian dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, approaches that of investigative journalist Dominick Dunne: wry but never cynical, informed without being boorishly technical, and balanced but never leaving the reader in doubt of the ethically correct viewpoint. Time after time, as Curto points out, “The law gives the edge in justice not necessarily to the wealthy but to the defiant: the party who is under legal obligation to comply but refuses to do so…he is in an ideal position to evade justice by using time and delay as buffers—until timely justice can no longer be achieved.” For a Judge Judy–watching society such as ours, the concept of swift legal redress is familiar enough; perhaps if lawmakers, lawyers and litigants were to adopt a comparable, less self-serving view of the legal system, then the notion of “justice delayed is justice denied” could become more than a pithy maxim.
A detailed, knowledgeable examination of a failing justice system, along with some solutions for fixing it.