THE PEOPLE V. CLARENCE DARROW by Geoffrey Cowan

THE PEOPLE V. CLARENCE DARROW

The Bribery Trial of America's Greatest Lawyer
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A revisionist study of Clarence Darrow in which Cowan, an attorney and historian (See No Evil, 1979; UCLA), concludes that the legendary lawyer--despite being acquitted in 1912 of the charge--did indeed try to bribe a jury in a criminal case. Darrow is generally remembered as an almost saintly figure who used his matchless eloquence and intellect to serve the cause of the poor and working classes, with brilliant success and often for no pay. But the truth, Cowan suggests, was more complex and interesting: Darrow was a gifted, idealistic man, devoted to the causes of underdogs but cynically disdainful of traditional concepts of truth and justice. In 1911, the attorney, already nationally famous for his defense of labor cases, was comfortably engaged in a lucrative corporate practice when he assumed the defense of J.J. McNamara, a popular leader of the Structural Iron Workers Union, and of McNamara's brother Jim: The two were indicted for murder in the fatal bombing of the Los Angeles Times building. Cowan tells how Darrow, desperate to save his clients from almost certain hanging, urged his agents to plant spies among the detectives and prosecutors and to attempt to bribe key prosecution witnesses and jurors. After one of Darrow's friends was arrested in the act of passing money to a juror, the McNamara case was settled quickly, with Jim McNamara receiving a life sentence and J.J. getting 15 years. Prosecutors then indicted Darrow for jury tampering, but, after a long and spirited defense--much of which Darrow handled himself--the jury was won over by the lawyer's eloquence and acquitted him despite considerable evidence of guilt. Cowan suggests that Darrow emerged from the experience chastened and wiser, going on to argue his greatest cases. A tense and riveting account that neatly balances courtroom drama with fascinating glimpses into Darrow's enigmatic conscience. (Eight pages of b&w photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8129-2179-8
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993