In his impeccably detailed memoir, trial lawyer Tucker (May God Have Mercy, 1997) takes readers through some of the most celebrated and notorious courtroom dramas of the 20th century.
You expect an attorney to emphasize specifics: when discussing his defense of a paranoid schizophrenic in the mid-1960s, for example, Tucker describes the moment he received the call from the defendant’s father, how he arranged to meet the man, why the courts of that time failed to provide justice for the mentally ill. What’s surprising is how breezy and engrossing the narrative is. Readers will want the details to unfold because, like members of a jury, they know an argument or lesson is going to reveal itself at some point. Usually the author’s lessons reaffirm the sanctity of the judicial system. Even though many of the cases here involve justice breaking down, unfair judges, rigid bureaucracies, and politics muddling up the courtroom, ultimately each example Tucker provides ends with the triumph of truth over falsehood. His chapter on the trial of the Chicago Eight is a case in point. Tucker writes that US Judge Julius Hoffman performed horribly in the case, which involved the so-called conspirators who organized a demonstration outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968. The judge was biased throughout the proceedings, going so far as to jail some of the defendants’ lawyers and later sentencing almost everyone who was part of the case to a few years in prison for contempt of court. In the end, Hoffman’s draconian actions were overturned, and Tucker argues that the circus arising from the trial sent a message to other judges that they couldn’t quash people’s First Amendment rights so easily. He wonders if a popular movement will protect due-process rights in the war against terrorism.
An eminently instructive guide for law students, and for general readers an authentic version of a world they normally see only through the meretricious lens of TV courtroom dramas.