As a public defender, a young lawyer fresh out of school learns how the legal system really works.
Television makes it look so easy. A smartly dressed lawyer comes up with a clever ploy or finds a key witness at the eleventh hour, snatching victory so that justice prevails. In reality, as Farmer’s novel illustrates in occasionally harrowing fashion, the American legal system is a hodgepodge of overworked public defenders, self-righteous judges and endless paperwork in which justice is often a happy accident. Law school lessons still dancing in his head, Paul Fields becomes a public defender in Louisville, Kentucky. He quickly gets disabused of his ivory-tower vision of the law as he descends into Kentucky’s Byzantine legal system and discovers how things actually work. Along the way, he picks up a girlfriend, Megan, who winds up helping him investigate a dandified judge nicknamed Lil’O and a crooked cop, who are running an illegal scheme from Acme Supply, a dirty company of which the judge is president. Meanwhile, in court, he has to contend with Heath, a smug prosecutor who cares only about advancing his political career. Farmer’s novel is an eye-opening, sometimes-uncomfortable trip through one state’s legal system that will make doubters out of anyone who naïvely thinks justice always triumphs. Farmer, a former public defender and prosecutor, clearly knows his way around the law, and the book rings with authenticity. The story moves along briskly, occasionally becoming too technical as Farmer lays on the legalese. He keeps the Lil’O case percolating on the back burner even as Fields becomes involved with other matters. Until he learns that “things are what they are” and that he can’t change them, Fields flounders at his job. What’s initially fascinating but ultimately disturbing is how rigged the American legal system is against the poor and downtrodden and how justice for them depends solely on their luck in getting a public defender who cares enough. Sadly, after reading this, one suspects that’s rarely the case.
Keen, sobering account of how the legal system really works.