A lawyer’s memoir of a lifetime arguing cases in court.
Before retiring in 2003, former district attorney and North California trial lawyer Ruiz (The Big Bear, 2003) spent over 36 years practicing law and defending clients. Before and during that career, Ruiz wrote well-received novels, and those same writing skills are on display in his new memoir. The book opens with frank, clearly written vignettes from his childhood: “How I despised my brown skin,” he writes of himself as a boy. “How I dreamed and longed to be born again, but this time with blond hair and blue eyes.” He then continues to his legal career, focusing on a handful of major trials that taught him his craft and tested his resolve. When assigned the case of a man accused of shooting someone 40 times, Ruiz found himself thinking, “[I]f I held myself out to be a criminal defense attorney, then I couldn’t refuse to represent any defendant, no matter how heinous the charge might be.” Enlivened by vivid details and engaging dialogue, these accounts read like enthralling legal fiction. They’re interspersed with digressions on a wide array of law-related topics, from the arrogance of judges to the present-day broken state of California’s penal system, where the “war on drugs” has led to overcrowded prisons and dangerous criminals being granted early release. As Ruiz writes: “If you weren’t a hardened criminal when you entered prison, the chances were very good you would be one when you left.” Through his triumphs and setbacks, including his first panic attack, suffered in court at the age of 56, Ruiz maintains an involving, unpretentious narrative flow that keeps the reader interested and on his side.
A well-written, engaging look at a life of law.