An Invitation To John Grisham

I imagine John Grisham, the best-selling author of plot-driven legal thrillers, channel surfing late one night on his 100-plus-acre farm in Oxford, Mississippi, and settling on an episode of "Better Call Saul." The author of books selling 275 million worldwide must have felt a pang of regret on seeing Saul. "I need to create a street lawyer," he said aloud. The result was his latest book, "Rogue Lawyer," recently published by Doubleday.

Grisham has now declared that he, too, wants to play at legal noir. Enter Sebastian Rudd, a criminal defense lawyer practicing law out of the back of an armored van, accompanied by a driver/confidante/bodyguard nicknamed "Partner."

If this sounds familiar, it is: This is a hunkered-down version, if such a thing is possible, of Michael Connelly's limousine lawyer, Mickey Haller. Amusingly, Rudd, in some of his rare downtime, actually reads Connelly. It is a small, small world after all.

Rudd represents folks with whom we have a love-hate relationship: drug dealers, sex traffickers, killers. I say love-hate because we so love to hate these folks. I suspect it is because we envy their lack of restraint.

Criminal defense lawyers play super ego to our collective id. We're all killers at heart. Bringing a "bad" man to justice satisfies because we don't want to be mocked: no one should be permitted to get away with what we prevent ourselves from doing, otherwise our self-control, civilization itself, is mocked.

The problem with Rudd is that he is a rich man's idea of a rogue. Rudd never really worries about a fee. When he agrees to represent a kick-boxer in whose career he had himself invested, Rudd, a witness to the crime charged, does so without a fee. Without much grumbling, he advances $30,000 for a jury consultant, $20,000 for a forensic psychiatrist and another $20,000 in costs of one sort or another. The money simply falls out of the sky. Rudd is a rogue without the hustle.

Saul Goodman remains the most convincing depiction of a street lawyer I've seen in fiction. The AMC series, starring Bob Odenkirk, does a better job of showing how tawdry the practice of law can be for the fee-hustling set, those lawyers without institutional clients, who live client-to-client and hope, usually in vain, that the next phone call might just be the one that pays a fee sufficient to satisfy the creditors sniffing forever and always in the background.

Connelly, a former crime reporter and not a lawyer, does a decent job portraying the street's grit, but he, too, writes like a man paid a comfortable advance. No matter how desperate Haller's finances, a deus ex machina client always appears, armed with a fat retainer, or a miracle fee. Most lawyers I know don't live such charmed lives.

We working-stiff lawyers, those of us who truck, barter and trade for fees on the law's killing fields, don't always have the time or inclination to behold the exploits of fictional lawyers. What can be more startling, more surprising, and, indeed, more disturbing than the real-life dramas we call work?

But the public at large loves legal thrillers, even if it professes disdain for lawyers. I read them and watch them, looking for an honest account of the life I lead. I've yet to see one that rings entirely true.

So here's the challenge to Grisham. If you really want to see how the law's dark arts are practiced, c'mon up to New Haven for a week or so. I'll give you room, board and the ability to pal around for a week or so with a lawyer who grinds away in despair's dark corners without miraculous cash drops or deep pockets.

A street lawyer's life is one of quiet desperation, you see. Perhaps that's not good fiction, but I suspect it could be. Or perhaps the consumers of legal thrillers merely want entertainment, and not the truth. •



Now Is Not The Time To Welcome Syrian Migrants

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy thinks Connecticut ought to open its arms to Syrian migrants. Of course, he wants assurances the migrants are appropriately vetted, the better to weed out suicide bombers and extremists. Why take the risk? There are times that xenophobia is adaptive. This is such a time.

Last weekend’s attacks on civilians in Paris was savage. ISIS claims responsibility for them, just as it seeks to expand its reach throughout the world. Its brand of Islamic fundamentalism is a scourge aiming at nothing less than the destruction of our way of life.

ISIS promises more and new attacks, some of them aimed at us, here in the United States. We quarantine those who are near an infectious disease until we are sure the risk of infection has passed. Why invite migrants from a region awash in blood and destruction to settle here? What assurances are there that terrorists are not embedded in their midst?

Call me a new convert to Islamophobia: I own it. Time and again, I’ve seen the Quran pressed into the service of slaughter. I am an intended victim, as are you.

Social media was immediately abuzz as news of the new slaughter broke: Terrorism has no religion, a popular meme said. Perhaps. But this particular brand of terror has a creed: Its vision of an Islamic jihad celebrates the death of Westerners and wants more blood.

Folks calling this a tragedy miss the point. Tragedies are horrible events. A flood. A hurricane. A fire. These can be tragedies. So, too, can an act of terror have tragic consequences. But terror has human causes. We can strike at its source in a way we cannot do at the origin of a tornado.

Calling the Paris slaughter a “tragedy” is a species of moral passivity.

There’s wax in my ears just now when Muslims of good will seek to remind me that Islam is a religion of peace. Don’t lecture me about my shortcomings in this dark hour. Police your own. If you are outraged about distortions of Islam, then strike out at those who distort it by acts of terror. Telling me to remain calm feels a lot like being fattened before the slaughter.

As a matter of law, the debate about whether the United States should take in Syrian migrants is puzzling. Under our federal system, the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration policy. It can decide whom to admit into the United States.

But what gives the federal government the authority to relocate migrants to particular states? Federalism typically gives to state government what is called the police power, the ability to regulate the health, education and welfare of state residents.

The federal government lacks the ability to order a state to accept migrants. At best, it can offer inducements in the form of federal funds to accept the migrants. States can refuse to accept the aid.

But can a state refuse to permit a person once in the country, whether a citizen or not, to reside within its borders? I don’t think so. The Constitution guarantees to all a right to travel freely between the states. While each state is sovereign in its limited sphere, it does not have control over its borders.

For the past several months, hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants have poured across Europe’s borders, all seeking refuge from the killing fields they once called home. Syria is a wasteland.

The West is called upon to absorb these immigrants in the name of our common humanity, and human rights. But, tell me, who will repair the ruins the migrants’ homelands have become when they are all happily settled in Western nations? And who, ominously, will assure us that salted away among the immigrants aren’t more young men like the young man who apparently came to France through Greece and then went on a killing spree in Paris?

Forgive me if I don’t feel like starting a welcome wagon here in Connecticut for any of these folks.

A deeper form of chauvinism, of arrogance, inspires this new debate on immigration. We’ve assumed that Syria, and, perhaps the Middle East in general, can never get it right, never live in peace. Hence, Syrians flee to the West, presumably to enjoy a better life.

Why not provide them temporary housing closer to their home so that they can return once ISIS has been defeated, once there is a regime change in Syria and the country can be rebuilt? Is no one considering that because we don’t think the Syrian people can help themselves?

I was relieved to see France’s Francois Hollande respond to the attacks on Paris by bombing ISIS targets. I’d be relieved to see overwhelming and lethal force rained on these new barbarians.

There is a powerful argument that violence begets violence: That yielding to the murderous rage the terrorists provoke serves only to accelerate the spiral of violence. No one wins a race to the bottom.

I understand all that. I really do.

But what if the bottom line is all that really matters here? What if there is a growing cadre of folks who really and truly believe that they will know no peace until the West is dead?

Perhaps trying to understand the causes of their hatred is a fool’s errand. Perhaps there comes a time when it is enough to say, simply, “Enough!” In a kill-or-be-killed world, I can live with blood on my hands.

In a better world, there would be no drone strikes, zapping the unwary without warning, killing them. Yet I had not a moment’s sorrow over the news that Jihadi John, the famous baritone executioner for ISIS who liked to behead people on YouTube, was killed.

I don’t need a civics lesson from Dannel Malloy just now, and hortatory nonsense about our heritage and way of life. A self-styled Islamic nation has declared war on the United States. Why play spin the bottle with destiny right now and welcome those who’d rather flee their homes than fight for them?

Call me a xenophobe. I don’t particularly care. Neither do the governors of at least 25 states who had the sense to say no this week to more Syrian refugees. Governor Malloy is wrong about welcoming migrants. Dead wrong.


About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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