Laurence Leamer's The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption is out this month. A book Kirkus' critic referred to as "a well-constructed... eye-opening story about the relations among politics, business and justice," The Price of Justice is a fast-paced nonfiction legal thriller that tracks the corruption and mayhem that happened in West Virginia coal country in the 1990s and 2000s. We asked Leamer to provide a list of the most surprising things he learned while writing the book. - Ed.
1) I had no idea how hard lawyers work and all that goes into the preparation of a case. The hardest thing was to take all this information and these lengthy transcripts and briefs and transform them into a page-turning narrative.
2) I had thought of appellate attorney Theodore Olson as a rightwing attack dog who had argued the Republican side in Bush v. Gore. I got to know Olson because he argued Caperton, the main case in The Price of Justice, before the United States Supreme Court. He’s a brilliant man with a subtle mind and he rightfully comes out well in my book.
3) I’ve written 14 books, and The Price of Justice is the most socially important, most satisfying book I’ve written. I’ve learned how profoundly meaningful it is to write about a contemporary issue that affects every one of us: whether justice is just for the rich and powerful or for all of us.
4) I was stunned to realize that Bruce Stanley, one of my two heroes, and Don Blankenship, who the lawyer spent over a decade trying to bring to justice, could come from such similar backgrounds and see the world so differently. They are both poor West Virginia boys who grew up in homes without indoor plumbing. They both are extremely smart and ambitious. Stanley says in other circumstances, Blankenship could have been a friend.
5) When I was a young man back in 1971, I worked in a coal mine outside Beckley, West Virginia. Going back after all these years, I was startled at how much things have deteriorated, the whole region emptying out.
6) I couldn’t believe how expensive it is to seek justice against a corporate monolith like Massey Energy. Reed Smith, the law firm that is fighting this case on a contingency basis, has spent over $6 million and they still aren’t finished.
7) One of the characters in my book, Tony Arbaugh, is in prison. My book makes it clear that he doesn’t belong there, and in part because of The Price of Justice, he has a shot at getting out. He calls me collect every week. I was surprised and devastated by how expensive it is for inmates in most American prisons to call their family and friends. The phone system is controlled by giant outside companies who charge outrageous amounts. I would think if we don’t want these inmates going back to prison, we would want them to have regular contact with those who know and love them. In the age of Skype, it should cost almost nothing to do so.
8) The corrupt Supreme Court of West Virginia three times turned back the lower court’s $50 million verdict in Caperton. That left Stanley no choice but to file the case in Virginia, where a circuit judge said they had no business being heard. When they appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, I thought the conservative justices would say that enough is enough and end it for good. Instead, a few weeks ago the court said unanimously that Caperton deserves to go to trial. When I heard that, I thought of a dinner I cohosted last winter for the civil rights leader and politician Andrew Young. He said that without the Republican judges, the Selma March led by Martin Luther King Jr. could never have taken place. These judges weren’t necessarily for integration, but they believed in the law. So do the justices of the Virginia Supreme Court.
Laurence Leamer is the bestselling author of 14 books and an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, and Playboy. He has most recently written cover stories for Newsweek.