A lawyer’s remembrance of the trial that changed his life.
When debut author Kussman first became acquainted with the particulars of Theresa Kayne’s legal case, he was both moved and frustrated. She had struggled to become pregnant, so her obstetrician, Fredrick Henley, administered injections of delalutin, a female sex hormone that mimics the effects of progesterone, which is naturally produced by the female body. She later learned that she was actually already in the early stages pregnancy at the time of the injections. Henley assured her that delalutin posed no risk to the fetus; however, her son, Joshua, was born without functioning arms or legs. Kayne intended to sue both Henley and E.R. Squibb & Sons, Inc., the colossal pharmaceutical company that manufactures delalutin, but she couldn’t find a lawyer to take the case, apparently because no one could find an expert witness who would testify that the hormone could cause birth defects. Russell’s firm didn’t want the case either, but he thought, contrary to prudence, that it was winnable. He left his firm and started his own, though he was only a year out of law school and had never tried a case before. The author provides a stirringly dramatic account of the three-month-long trial that eventually garnered national attention as well as a look into the inner machinations of the pharmaceutical industry that successfully stifled the promulgation of scientific findings and warnings that likely would have diminished its profit.
Despite his lack of experience, Russell was uniquely positioned to try the case for the same reason he’s now uniquely positioned to tell its story—before he was a lawyer, he was a practicing physician. Much of the power of his remembrance is a function of his unfiltered candor, which includes self-criticism. He realized that he was outclassed by his legal adversaries and, at one point, in deep trouble: “I could see from the reality of an actual trial courtroom that I was a fish out of water; that it would be impossible for me to do this on my own. I was jeopardizing Josh’s future and my own law license.” Still, even after Russell sought out the help of a much more seasoned attorney, he torpedoed the partnership by hubristically insisting on being the lead lawyer, a self-effacing analysis he unforgivingly supplies. While the memoir focuses on the trial itself and its legal details, Russell also affectingly reflects on his own personal life—certainly one of the reasons he was so moved by Kayne’s plight was that his own wife was pregnant at the time he took her case. Further, he astutely explores his own defiant brand of ambition. He abandoned a promising career as a physician to become a lawyer, only to quickly exit an enviable job at a well-known firm to set out in his own. At different junctures in the story, he seems by turns impressively confident and self-destructively arrogant.
A captivating blend of legal suspense and introspective memoir.