F. Lee Bailey On Taking Back The Courts

Here's the foreward to my new book, Taking Back the Courts, written by an idol of mine, F. Lee Bailey. To say I was thrilled to get this review is an understatement.


Several years ago I was asked by my most important client at the time to find him a fearless, highly skilled lawyer in Connecticut to take the lead in a monstrous case which was then degenerating rapidly. After questioning a number of colleagues to get recommendations, I set an interview with Norman Pattis of New Haven. We met at dinner. At first glance, as he entered the room, I noted a generous pony-tail, patches on the elbows of his sport coat, a shirt suitable for fly-fishing, and a pair of shoes that must have come from L. L. Bean. This how he dressed for court. In my mind I imposed on him an indictment for "hippiness", and envisioned great problems in getting my client - who had many of the attributes of a tiger - to even agree to an introduction. Thirty minutes later, the indictment dissolved, I stepped out of the room and called the client: "I have our guy," I said. "Good," said the client. "Sign him up!" Thus began an always intriguing and consistently pleasant relationship which has lasted since that day and has, I hope, a long future; I have invited Norm to my 100th birthday party.

We worked together on the monster litigation, and got what I consider to be a good result. Not long after it was concluded, I asked him to handle a tragic case for a friend, wherein a young mother was charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol resulting from a crash which killed two of her children, and nearly killed her. He took the case to trial (as described in the book) and turned in a masterful job.

Norman has an exquisite command of the written word, and his prose in this book soars and swoops consistently. For those whose English skills are less than extraordinary, the book is worth reading regardless of its content, just to get the benefit of writing at its best. I have written several million words myself, and always felt that I had a pretty good handle on the King’s English. Pattis sent me to the dictionary six times in less than 200 pages, read carefully in just over five hours on a Sunday. Most of these trips were worthwhile, although Pattis flirts with the pedantic when he uses "quotidian", when "mundane" will work just as well or better.

It is said that a lawyer who will represent the poor, the downtrodden, the hated and the ugly, against the juggernaut of the state, must have balls of a lion. Having tried my first case in 1954, and having tracked the very best trial lawyers since that time so I could learn from them, I must endorse the description above. But such a lawyer must also have the unflagging stamina of a marathon runner, the calm under fire of a David who has but one chance to bring down Goliath, and a simmering rage against the law and its minions that often lumber along almost mindlessly, crushing the good with the evil. Such a warrior must also have the most rare among the skills of an advocate: a consummate command of the spoken word. Pattis stands very, very tall in this respect. He is one of the best speakers I have ever encountered.

He has the arsenal which best befits a gunslinger: a Colt .44, a 30-30 deer rifle and a Bowie knife. These are all in the form of whiplash phrases and sentences so necessary to the destruction of a lying witness, with which our courtrooms are well-populated.

This is not to say that Norman Pattis is perfect. His massive indictment of all judges and prosecutors as ranging from lazy and meek to the devil incarnate is overdone. As one who has had a handle in some form in court cases in every state of the United States but Montana, I have found most of our judges to be pretty good; they would be better if we paid them a realistic wage. True, several of them were ugly and cruel people inside and out, and should be publicly defrocked and thrown bodily off the bench. And while too many prosecutors take unto themselves a license to massage the truth in order to win the case, I have met a goodly number who had some sense of "doing the right thing".

Pattis is seriously wrong-headed with nearly all of what he has to say about the Simpson case - but I will fix that. He makes good inroads into some of the things that are wrongfully done to minimal sex-offenders, but doesn’t complete the circle. True pedophiles need some sorts of controls, because their lust can and often does degenerate into murder and rape (in that order). On the other hand, awarding the next slot on the U. S. Supreme Court to a trial lawyer who has lived in the pit and on the street is a very good idea: President Obama and Attorney-General Holder, please take note.

This is an important book. For all who contemplate or are engaged in the study of law, it should be required reading. Even those students who plan to hide out in the comfort of the nooks and garrets of some behemoth law firm, insulated from the hurly-burly of our courts, need a solid glimpse of what really goes on before they write their briefs whose purpose is to crush some "little guy" opponent. It is essential for these "quiet ones" to realize that the Pattis type is a vanishing breed, slowly being crushed by courts at the behest of prosecutors who have been given way too much power by lawmakers. There are no other real hotshots, to my knowledge, coming down the pike. Not for many, many years has a top-ranked trial lawyer, possessed of a superb vocabulary, ripped open the innards of a system which has multitudinous shortcomings and a goodly number of sins festering in its underbelly. Judges who are offended, and prosecutors and police who are outraged, may seek revenge. They should be careful. This horse can kick and bite.

Among those of us who have sallied forth into the breach of the well of the court, broadsword and scimitar firmly in hand, the litmus test for the really top-shelf lawyers who occupy these halls is simply this: If I were in some sort of serious trouble, who would I choose? Who would I trust to give me the very best representation, shrewdly and fearlessly. This is where the rubber meets the road.

I have long maintained such a list. It is rather short now, since a number of my esteemed colleagues who did not resolve to live to be 100 have passed along in recent years. But the list, however brief, remains. The youngest, but by no means the least, of the names on that list is Norman Pattis.

Also listed under: Taking Back The Courts

Comments: (3)

  • f.l.bailey
    your friend needs some education of sexoffenders. i hope yoiu have the opportunity to do this, but i will get your book and read it. you know the other side and the truth about it!
    Posted on June 13, 2011 at 2:03 am by renate
  • congrats
    It is indeed a beautiful tribute and well deserved. I agree with renate that Mr. Bailey needs some up-close and personal time delving into the horrendous state of the sex offender industry of today. I so look forward to reading your book.
    Posted on June 13, 2011 at 3:00 am by Shelomith Stow
  • taking back the courts
    congrats, well earned,ordered book today:) norm is the eye of the tiger
    Posted on June 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm by jim fraulo

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