I’ve always had this hair-brained genius for public speaking, coupled with stumbling onto the truth by accident. But it takes so much more to be a topnotch litigator like my friend Josh Shorty, a pit bull criminal defense attorney who practices in the tribal courts.
To be a trial lawyer and get anywhere, you need to be a street fighter. You need to bend the rules without breaking them. You need defiance, a rhino skin against insults and judicial abuse. You need to be able to fly by the seat of your pants, and pull arguments out of your ass. I had none of those qualities.
So when a high-profile murder case blew up in my face in the political court of public opinion back in Chicago, and no client would touch me after that, and no judge would grant me a continuance much less a favorable ruling on a motion, I had to hang up my shingle and leave the practice of law.
I ended up moving out to a dusty desert town in the Four Corners region of the Southwest. I became the other kind of counselor – a counselor of mental health. Got my license and everything. Let that other license back in Cook County lapse. This was more me; a hand-holder, a helper, a healer. So I thought.
Until a cowhand with a gift for mystical language but the inability to express himself in practical terms walked into my office one day and asked me to defend him against a petition in which the State sought guardianship over him. Reluctantly, I decided to act as his expert in the guardianship case. Just because someone can’t express himself through the commonly-understood meanings of words doesn’t mean he should end up a ward of the state. I believed in freedom and so did my client, Yale
But then I get myself appointed as his attorney as well. Pro hac vice. ‘For this case only.’ And then I remembered why I’d left the law.
They all started ganging up on me, the other side did. The former D.A. now representing the State in its guardianship hearing; a judge who seemed to detest me because I was an outsider; and an arrogant expert State psychiatrist who had me outgunned by several degrees and years of experience and whose reputation was on the line. I mean, the three of them played golf together. How was I going to stand up to the bullying? How was my client, Yale, going to get a fair shake?
That’s what The Dirt is about, on the outside. It’s a story that takes place on several levels: On one level, it asks the question: should the State have the right to intervene in your life, to make decisions on your behalf just because you’re a little different? On another level, it deals with more profound questions: Are there mystics among us, people who walk the earth to a different rhythm? And then there’s the C story, my story. I came to the Four Corners a disillusioned young man, starving to believe in something. I guess when Yale walked into my office that spring afternoon, I made him my messiah. But was he putting me on? Was he my personal trickster?
The ultimate issue The Dirt deals with is whether someone can convince themselves of a truth because they desperately want it to be so. The novel follows my defense of Yale in his jury trial in a small town. Do we prevail? Can he (and I) even get a fair shake in the old boy network? What was I trying to prove by taking on his case?
The novel is due out on May 30th.
This post regards a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incident are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.