Before attorney Edward Hall was disbarred and sentenced for illicit behavior in the Harris County Criminal Justice Center’s evidence room, he had built an impressive trial record. He thought he was done paying the price – two years of a three-year prison term and the loss of his law license.
In Against the Law: A Courtroom Drama
, Bexar County assistant district attorney and author Jay Brandon illustrates a trial and its myriad circumstances: the lawyer-judge relationship, the influence of police officers’ suggestive questions on witnesses’ ever-changing memories, and the rhetorical techniques of both the prosecution and the defense.
Edward, unlicensed and a bit rusty, is up to try the most important trial of his life: defending his sister, Dr. Amy Shilling, a suspect in the murder of her husband Dr. Paul Shilling. In Edward’s estimation, however, unanswered questions about infidelity and professional rivalry cause him to doubt that innocence.
Brandon’s third-person narration is an incredibly nuanced dissection of the theater of trial, where a witness’ facial expression becomes a chess move for the opposing side, and an attorney’s objections are successively destroyed like discs in skeet shooting. Edward knows that despite who or what officers initially find at a murder scene, “the prime goal of criminal defense [is] changing the narrative.”
“They settle like flies on the closest piece of sandwich and don’t go looking for something else,” says Amy when she realizes the similarities between the practices of medicine and law enforcement. In each case, they “take the easiest diagnosis (read suspect and motive) and move on.” Amy’s story of her supposed reconciliation with her husband has holes though, and if she is covering up any facts, it could tip the trial.
Edward’s father, Dr. Marshall Hall, deludes himself into believing that having saved the family members of high-ranking officials creates a quid pro quo for releasing his daughter. He pressures Edward to force investigators to find the real murderer, just as when he treated the police captain’s mother: “I did further tests and kept looking into her case, after another doctor had made a diagnosis that turned out to be disastrously wrong. Further investigation saved her life.”
Edward’s past with then trial lawyer and now Judge Cynthia Miles skews his perception and the reader’s imagination. When prosecuting attorney David Galindo asks to introduce video evidence so damaging that Edward believes it will dismantle his entire defense, Judge Miles defers her decision on whether to allow it. Could it be the dreaded poison of power called black-robe fever, or could it be an old gripe between the two?
With attention to the tilt of a head or elusive eyes in a courtroom, Brandon’s description challenges the visual cues of any camera shots in the television series to which many are addicted: Netflix’s Seven Seconds
, HBO’s The Night of
, or AMC’s Better Call Saul
. In each of these courtroom dramas, the defense, like Edward Hall here, tries unsuccessfully to convince the suspect to take a plea bargain because the search for the real murderer is over: “Each case gets only one solution, at least from the police department’s point of view. It’s a court case now, […] not a police one.”
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