ON TRIAL: Masters of the Courtroom by Norman Sheresky

ON TRIAL: Masters of the Courtroom

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New York lawyer Sheresky gee-whizzes his way through trial transcripts featuring the alleged savvy, showmanship, guts, and guile of five ""grand masters"": Edward Bennett Williams, Melvin Belli, Barnabus F. Sears, Vincent Hallinan, and Alfred Julien. None of the cases involves a landmark decision or complex legalities; even when significant parties surface (Belli's defense of Jack Ruby, Sears' Black Panther imbroglio), significant issues are skirted. No, what Sheresky invites us to be dazzled by are the baldest tricks of the trade: Williams' diversionary storytelling and last-minute introduction of the technicality that got his client off; Hallinan's humiliation of an expert medical witness, leading to the acquittal of an ""unconscious"" murderer; Julien's arm-twisting, out-of-court extraction of a $200,000 personal injury settlement in an un winnable, baseless case; Belli's ""superb"" oratory that wasn't superb enough to convince Dallas that Jack Ruby was blameless. Except for brief (in the case of rambunctious Belli, not so brief), prefatory interviews with the advocates and a quick round-up that ropes in Louis Nizer and a half-dozen others, Sheresky's work consists of summarizing case backgrounds and annotating trial transcripts with adjectives like ""brilliant,"" ""exquisite,"" ""masterful,"" and ""staggering,"" and nouns like ""tour de force,"" ""artist,"" and, unceasingly, ""grand master."" While his only criticism of the superlawyers is that ""their notion of steadfast belief in their clients often rings false,"" Sheresky's shoddy choices of supposedly representative cases--especially Vincent Hallinan's grotesque, anti-Catholic contesting of a will--performs them a devastating disservice. And the fact that the author's close colleague Alfred Julien (""the ultimate in personal-injury advocacy"") chews up more space than any of the others transforms an already unpleasant, unsatisfying exercise into an embarrassing one.

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1977
Publisher: Viking