In Laurence Leamer's new work of narrative non-fiction, The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption, two lawyers file and prosecute a wide range of lawsuits against Massey Energy Co. and its CEO, Don Blankenship. One of these lawsuits, Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., eventually ends up in U.S. Supreme Court. (The issue: whether an appellate judge should have recused himself after having received campaign assistance from a litigant.)
Loosely organized around the Caperton case, Leamer's book condenses more than a decade of litigation against Massey into a fast-paced, suspenseful read. This couldn't have been easy for Leamer, given that lawyers and their lawsuits are generally far from entertaining, especially for 400 pages. It's why you have to excuse the sometimes souped-up, over-heated prose found in The Price of Justice and other books of its type, which publishers are now calling "non-fiction legal thrillers."
The two principal protagonists are the lawyers for the various plaintiffs, Dave Fawcett of Buchanon Ingersoll and Bruce Stanley of Reed Smith. In an early scene, Fawcett and Stanley become frustrated after Massey's representatives show up at a mediation with no good-faith intention of settling. The two react by making a "blood oath" that they'll "never settle, never stop" until they've brought the Massey CEO, Don Blankenship, to "justice."
Good idea? Readers can decide. But as the book ends, Fawcett has left Buchanon Ingersoll and joined Reed Smith in order to continue fighting Massey and Blankenship; the two firms have expended at least $8 million in "unpaid billing"; and Blankenship has retired from Massey with a $39 million retirement package (though facing "possible criminal indictment" following a mine explosion).
If you're looking for trial scenes, there are plenty of those in The Price of Justice. Some of the procedural details that might interest lawyers have been omitted or simplified for the general reader. Even so, the details that remain will have anyone with experience in these matters shaking his head: the trial judge in Caperton, for example, who takes two and half years to rule on post-trial motions, or the court reporter who hasn't prepared the transcript after four.
Readers will also be amazed by the parts of the book dealing with the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the exception to the rule that lawyers and judges can't be entertaining. These justice are, albeit in a circus clown sort of way. Since the Caperton case passes through the Supreme Court of Appeals a number of times, a pretty significant chunk of the book deals with the court's assorted shenanigans. Here's Leamer, bringing readers up to date on the justices at a later point in the story:
The five justices continued to wear their black robes and to act with studied dignity, but the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia was a bickering, ludicrously dysfunctional institution in which the Mad Hatter would have fit right in as chief justice.
The Mad Hatter would probably have brought some order to the court. A favorite part of the book for me, though much too short, was the section quoting from the "private diary" that Justice Larry Starcher gave to Leamer to aid him in writing the book. Here's a sample:
We decided the now $75 million Massey Energy case in less than 60 seconds. (HONEST!) The Massey case obviously was pre-decided by the 'evil three.' Benjamin and Maynard are buddies with Don Blankenship and Robin kisses their butts . . .
The "evil three" are Starcher's colleagues on the court, Justices Benjamin, Maynard, and the butt-kissing Robin Davis. No judicial restraint in Starcher's diary!
The book's two lawyer-heroes are also depicted as being occasionally human. Examples:
- When faced with a liar on the witness stand, Fawcett "was sometimes so abruptly caught off guard that he froze with surprise."
- Before a deposition, Fawcett "was so nervous that when Blankenship and his attorneys walked into the room he broke into a cold sweat."
- During trial, Fawcett "had prepared each question of his cross-examination with precision, lining them up one after another. But those queries had all been used, and he didn't know where to go."
I could have picked on Stanley too; the point is, Leamer's discussion of the lawyers' occasional failings adds verisimilitude to his account. The Price of Justice, which will be released on May 7, is available for pre-order on Amazon.