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In America’s Court: How a Civil Lawyer Who Lies to Settle Stumbled Into a Criminal Trial by Thomas Geoghegan


Rating: (Recommended)


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While Thomas Geoghegan’s writing style isn’t exactly stream of consciousness in his new book, In America’s Court, his writing jumps from one thought or idea to another in a fashion that’s both quirky and addictive. When an attorney friend named Scott asks Geoghegan to assist at a criminal trial defending a man named Rolando in a retrial, Geoghegan agrees, and In America’s Court is the story of that experience. Here’s an excerpt:

“Calvin was the older kid who’d done the murder. He was seventeen then. Why shoot? Because at the bar, some old guy, tipsy maybe, was too slow to hit the floor. And because Calvin had fired, Rolando was in prison, more or less for life. Well, that’s the curse of felony murder. Some guy like Calvin fires, and if you are anywhere nearby, you’re just as guilty too. It doesn’t matter if you’re fifteen, or didn’t have a gun at all. It only matters if a guy like Calvin forced you to come along.
As we walked, Scott was saying of Calvin, ‘You’ll like him, he’s a nice kid.’
And while Scott said this in a nice way, he didn’t use the same tone of voice as when he’d said, ‘Rolando is a nice kid.’ In a way, it seemed Scott said ‘Calvin is a nice kid’ as if to warn me.
After all, this kid was a killer.
So I knew I wouldn’t see him in a golden light. No, just the standard-issue county light, which always had the color of urine.
Urine, which inked into all five of my senses: The urine light I could see, the urine I seemed to hear trickling down the walls, the urine I could smell, the urine that I could taste or feel coming off my skin after I was back there for five minutes.
That’s the light I saw Calvin in at first, and I didn’t think he was innocent. No, all I could think was, This kid is beautiful.
Now, for me, it’s a first to talk about a man’s beauty. But I’ll just say it was male beauty of a standard NBA kind. Or the kind that Leni Riefenstahl, in her post-Nazi photos, might have taken to, and but for a certain scariness, Calvin might have been in jeans and staring from the back of GQ magazine.
Now I remembered what Scott told me, the night before, of their last talk together: ‘I said, to him, “Calvin, you come across as mean, but you’re really a nice guy.”’ (Scott was referring here, in part, to Calvin’s offer to testify.) And then Scott went on:
 ‘”No,” he shook his head. “I’m not a nice guy … because if I were a nice guy, I wouldn’t have done this to Rolando.”’
Scott was coming back, to make sure Calvin understood something. He was going to be our whole case, but …. This was the first time he would say, under oath, that he had ‘coerced’ Rolando. In doing so, he took a risk.”

In America’s Court is an outsider’s view of a criminal trial with an insider’s advantage. Geoghegan’s observations and reflections leave every reader thinking, whether you agree or disagree with his point of view. Civil lawyers will especially enjoy this book, and identify with Geoghegan’s reactions. Anyone who’s been involved in a criminal trial, or visited a court like the infamous 26th and Cal in Chicago, where this trial took place, will also identify with the characters and the description Geoghegan presents. At two hundred pages, In America’s Court, presents a brief story, and a few reflections about society, both of which are well worth reading.

Steve Hopkins, October 16, 2002


ă 2002 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the December 2002 issue of Executive Times


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