GUNNING FOR JUSTICE: My Life and Trials by Gerry & Anthony Polk Spence


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Actually: disjointed fragments of the life, and an exhaustive account of three cases, of Gerry Spence, trial lawyer extraordinaire, whose self-portrait suggests Melvin Belli crossed with Grizzly Adams. ""A Wyoming man, bred and born,"" Spence learned his litigation skills in a vanishing part of America--counties with names like Sweetwater, Uinta, and Sublette, where range detectives still keep an eye out for rustlers, and a good gunman can draw, shoot, and kill in less than half a second. First a prosecutor, then an insurance defense attorney, later a plaintiffs' lawyer and criminal defense specialist, Spence plays the role of the rugged individualist almost to the point of parody. He is outspoken about his dislikes: urban life; law professors; legal education generally and the ""pansy butts"" who go to law school nowadays. For Spence, hunting is a metaphor for the courtroom battle--""I stalk the witness like an elk, but the tracking is with my ears""--and he made his name in ""big money cases where we ripped off huge chunks of flesh from the lumbering, insensate corporate giants."" A dynamite trial lawyer, then, but not the sort of fellow you'd expect to find mixed up in the Karen Silkwood case, with its antinuclear-movement trappings. ""I am no cause lawyer,"" says Spence, whose relations with some other members of the Silkwood team were not always smooth. Learning the case was like ""trying to read the Bible at the wrong end of a paper shredder."" He never had much faith in the ""conspiracy stuff,"" approached the case as a classic strict-liability tort lawsuit, and came away with a $10.5 million damage award from the jury. (He does a sour-grapes number here on the subsequent appellate reversal.) Only two other cases, both criminal matters, get thorough coverage. In one, Spence (in an unusual turn as special prosecutor) wrestles with his duty to push for the death penalty despite his personal opposition to its use. In the other, he wins an acquittal for Ed Cantrell, a rural lawman who shot one of his own cops in self-defense. First-rate legal work in each, but very long in the telling. All in all: too idiosyncratic to attract a wide audience, although ""the women and the pointy-headed intellectuals and the nuclear science people"" may find Spence's no-nonsense view of the Silkweed case provocative.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday