A penetrating examination of the personal tragedy that befell a lawyer defending Jimmy Hoffa.
Tabac (Law/Cleveland State Univ.; The Insanity Defense and the Mad Murderess of Shaker Heights, 2018) unearths a previously untold story. Combining court transcripts, newspaper accounts, books about other figures, and interviews, he reconstructs the little-known life, dramatic career, and untimely death of Zeno Thomas Osborn Jr. In 1962, the Nashville lawyer won Baker v. Carr, the landmark Supreme Court case that established “one man, one vote.” In 1964, Osborn represented Hoffa, the Teamsters boss best remembered for disappearing in 1975 following decades of headlines involving organized crime and federal prosecutions. Tabac places Osborn in the context of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s protracted war with Hoffa and tracks down surviving veterans of its cloak-and-dagger skirmishes. He recounts his own successful 2009 effort to unseal grand jury testimony from the jury tampering trial that destroyed Osborn and reprints the damning transcript of a trickster’s secret recording. He paints Osborn not as a crooked lawyer corrupted by cash but a man who made the mistake of becoming Hoffa’s friend and loyalist. Tabac deftly calibrates his tone as the narrative shifts from Osborn’s Supreme Court victory to the seamy jury tampering episode, borrowing language from soft-boiled fiction: “Partin had clammed up before the grand jurors.” Short chapters maintain a lively pace, and the storytelling is authoritative and tantalizing. Given how vividly Tabac describes private meetings, conversations, and motives, other historians might wish to judge whether he has embellished or misinterpreted sources. His documentation won’t help much; the author provides a bibliography but no footnotes or endnotes. Some in-line references are available books, articles, or transcripts. Many are simply told “to the author.” Nevertheless, he displays balance and objectivity. As historical scholarship, this account may not quite please purists, but Tabac deserves credit for rescuing a forgotten slice of legal history and capturing its inherent drama and enduring lessons.
Certain to please true-crime and legal-thriller aficionados.