Thursday, May 17, 2018
The Jury Returns by Louis Nizer
Louis Nizer was one of the greatest lawyers of the twentieth century. He started his law firm in 1924 and when he died in 1994, he was still working there, a career spanning seven decades. He was extremely successful and represented many famous clients such as Mae West, Julius Erving, Johnny Carson and others. His work was credited with breaking the back of Hollywood and television blacklisting during the witchhunts of the 50's and 60's. The Jury Returns is Nizer's account of several of his more memorable cases.
The book starts with a murder case. Paul Crump had been sentenced to die for his part in a murder during a robbery. Nizer knew he was guilty but believed that his role had not deserved the death penalty and that his rehabilitation during his time in prison was worthy of another chance. This section details the procedures and strategies that Nizer used to defend his client and get his sentence changed from a death sentence to a more reasonable one of imprisonment with an eventual chance of parole.
In the second case, a divorce case is studied in depth. This will be the most difficult for readers to follow as the law around divorces has changed significantly from the 1950's and 1960's. In those times, divorce was a difficult thing to achieve with only a few reasons available that would lead the court to grant one. There was no such thing as a no-fault divorce and many couples stayed together for decades in a loveless marriage. Women were often left penniless in divorce actions when no or insufficient alimony and child support were granted and this was in the era when many women did not have a career of their own to fall back on. This section follows the case of two couples where the husband of one couple fell in love with the wife in the other. Nizer represented the wronged wife and it took several years to win her justice and the support she was entitled to.
The third case Nizer discusses was more serious. Roy Fruehauf, owner of the Fruehauf truck shipping line, was accused of making bribes to the Teamsters Union. This was in the time of James Hoffa and corruption was an everyday affair. Nizer definitely proved that Fruehauf was not involved in this corruption and that there was no reason for his firm to be disciplined.
The last case in this book is the longest. It discusses the blacklisting common in the movie and television industries in the era of McCarthyism. John Henry Faulk was an up and coming star on television. He had a successful radio career and was in the process of transitioning to television when he ran afoul of some right-wing organization. They retaliated by naming Faulk as a Communist and then his career stalled. Within a year, his work dried up and he could find nothing anywhere. Networks that had been clamouring for his services mysteriously decided they no longer needed him as they cut him in fear of being associated with Communism. It took several years, but Nizer managed to vindicate Faulk and in the process, end the rampant blacklisting that crippled the lives of many actors in this time period.
This is an interesting historical look back at law in prior decades. It is difficult for modern readers to sometimes relate to the attitudes and laws that were in play fifty to seventy years ago. But that is one of the benefits of reading this book; the realization of how attitudes on various things have changed and the role that the law has played in changing society. Nizer was one of the giants of the legal field and a study of his cases is interesting to those willing to case their minds back. This book is recommended for nonfiction readers interested in legal theory and decisions.