TX novel A Serious MistakeThose who work at publications get a lot of story pitches, and among them are a good number of books offered for review.

In Arizona Attorney Magazine, we occasionally run reviews of books, but they tend not to be of the murder-novel or bodice-ripping variety.

But what if those categories could be combined into one?

The other day, I got a pitch that made me rethink our resistance to the tawdrier side of the fiction aisle. Maybe lawyers want to read a ripping good yarn of legal intrigue and bloody retribution.

Even more interesting, the most recent pitch was for a novel that arose from … the lawyer discipline system.

Here is the background on a novel from a Texas attorney:

“Frank R. Southers’ new book A Serious Mistake is the second novel in his The Grievance Committee series. The series centers on the Grievance Committee of San Antonio, Texas, with each novel focusing on a slightly different storyline. A Serious Mistake focuses on criminal defense lawyer Scott Lonnigan, who takes his job very seriously.”

No, I’m the one who’s serious. I kid you not: A lawyer grievance committee. Despite my misgivings, I was drawn in to read more:

“Scott Lonnigan treats his appointment to the Grievance Committee in San Antonio, Texas just the same as his job as a criminal defense lawyer: with deadly seriousness. Many would go so far as to say that the job consumes Scott’s life. He throws himself into his work, always making sure to use common sense when judging the often heated and weighty complaints against lawyers. A lot hangs in the balance for members of both sides, and Lonnigan makes sure he respects the importance of his job. In his eyes, every accusation means at least one person, whether the lawyer or the client, made a serious mistake.”

TX novel The Grievance CommitteeOK, you’re interested right, but you want to hear more? How about another book by the same author, and with a description that provides some juicy tidbits? Here is an excerpt from The Grievance Committee, also by Frank Southers:

“Using his professional relationship as court-appointed attorney for beautiful Alexandra Jimenez, a serial shoplifter, Jose P. Quiroz has tricked her into sexual relations for months through deceit and dishonesty, and now has dumped her for another woman.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Ripped from the lawyer discipline pages, right? (Sorry I interrupted.)

“By showing that her made-up accusations are just spite from a broken love affair, Jose’s lawyer, Albert Hicks defeats her complaint with the Grievance Committee in San Antonio, Texas. Besides, he notes, sexual relations between a lawyer and the client are not prohibited.”

(I do not offer this as a synopsis of the state of the Ethical Rules in Arizona. Note that ER 1.8(j) maintains “A lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client–lawyer relationship commenced.” Proceed with your own client at your own risk.)

“With prayers to her patron saint, Alexandra finds Jose has also tricked two other female clients into sexual relations and she convinces them to file grievances. After losing at the second Grievance Hearing, Jose sues requesting a jury trial.”

Hmmm; it’s moving from a bodice-ripper into a civ pro procedural. Getting drowsy? Maybe your interest will be piqued if we then meet a judge (whom I’m guessing is steely-eyed) and a colorfully named stripper:

“Assigned from north Texas, Judge Horace Sawtelle visits for pre-trial matters and has a one-night stand with ex-stripper Missy Bubbles, who secretly has taken racy photos of the two. When the judge is ready the next night for round two, he finds Missy has been murdered.”

Oh, Missy Bubbles, how the attorney reading community will miss you. Your appearance on the scene was as effervescent as a … bubble, I suppose.

I kid, of course, because I tip my hat to all authors, even those focused on lawyer discipline. My prediction and wish for the author is that Judge Sawtelle, Scott Lonnigan and their cohort of fellow characters will grace quite a few stockings this holiday season. If you’re interested for yourself or for someone who needs a gift, head over to the author’s website.

Texas attorney-novelist Frank Southers

Texas attorney-novelist Frank Southers

On this Change of Venue Friday, I’d recommend a few articles that look at the criminal justice system.

First, surf over to the New Yorker. That’s where Jeffrey Toobin examines what’s happening to the death penalty in Texas. Once the nation’s leader in capital punishment, it is now talking a decidedly different tack. There may be a few reasons for that, but one of them may be the more sophisticated use of mitigation by defense lawyers. And Toobin adds that changes in prosecutors’ offices have played an important role too.

Jeffrey Toobin

So good is Toobin’s article that I am linking to it despite the fact that much of it is behind a paywall. Like many print publications, the New Yorker offers some content for free but really wants you to subscribe to get the rest. I read the whole thing, but the free abstract they provide is long, substantive and worth your time. And who knows: You may like it so much you’ll head over to a newsstand to pick up a copy.

The second article I’d recommend is E.J. Montini’s Arizona Republic column today on the law case surrounding the 1991 Buddhist Temple Murders.

E.J. Montini

We reported yesterday that the Ninth Circuit once again ruled to overturn the conviction of Johnathan Doody, based on the length and nature of the interrogation of the then-young defendant. (We also ran a book review of “Innocent Until Interrogated” by Gary Stuart, which examined the case. A portion of Gary’s book was a winner in the Arizona Attorney Creative Arts Competition in 2008.)

Montini spoke with a juror from the trial, who continues to aver that Doody was guilty. He says that the jury based their verdict on more than just the confession.

We might expect a juror to hold to that position. But the man’s comments are thoughtful and provide valuable insight into the process. Whether the State of Arizona decides to appeal again or prosecute again, insight into the system of interrogation and confession is always welcome.

Have a great weekend.