'Justice' served MSU law professor publishes first novel

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By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Being an appellate lawyer was both an asset and a hindrance for author Anthony J. Franze when writing his first novel, “The Last Justice.”

“It was helpful because when you’ve chosen to write for a living, whether you’re writing as a lawyer, a journalist, or in some context, you enjoy the process and get a lot of experience,” explained Franze.

On the other hand, he said, legal writing and fiction writing are quite different.

“As a lawyer, I try and say as much as I can in as few words as possible and cut out unnecessary detail,” Franze said. “I’m still a believer of less-is-more in fiction writing, but I admit that my editor made me go back in a few places to add some details to help set a scene.”

Franze, 41, lives in Chevy Chase, MD with Traci, his wife of 20 years. Together, they have three children: Jake, 13; Emma, 10; and Aidan, 7.

“The Last Justice “(Sterling and Ross $24.05) takes place in Washington, D.C. An assassin murders six justices of the U.S. Supreme Court as they are hearing a case. Solicitor General
Jefferson McKenna, the government’s top lawyer in the Supreme Court, is placed in charge of a multi-agency commission that is investigating these murders.

As Congress butts heads over who is going to replace the murdered justices, McKenna himself becomes a suspect.

He has no choice but to go on the lam in an effort to prove his innocence.

“The idea for (the book) came about when I was actually doing research for an academic article and looking into the Supreme Court confirmation process,” Franze said. “I know that the
process can be controversial, and we all remember the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings.”

As he conducted more research, Franze said, “I learned it’s been controversial since the very beginning: John Rutledge — George Washington’s nominee for chief justice — tried drowning himself after he was rejected by the Senate.

“As the wheels were turning,” he said, “I realized that replacing just one justice can be a drama-filled, contentious event in our country. What would happen if the nation were faced with a situation where the President would have the opportunity to replace the majority of the Supreme Court or all of it? That was the spark. From there, I wrote the first two pages of the book and it took off from there.”

It took Franze a little more than five years to complete the book.

Between practicing law for Arnold & Porter, LLC in Washington and teaching the “semester in D.C.” program for the Michigan State University College of Law — something he has done for eight years — plus his duties as husband and father, Franze had little time to write. So he made the time.

“Writing the novel was the hardest thing I’ve ever done — harder even than writing complex appellate briefs.”

Just finding the time to write with a busy law practice and spending time with his wife and three young children “was extraordinarily difficult,” Franze said.

“Much of the book was written between the hours of 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. or on an airplane or train… as long as I could write without getting too tired,” he explained.

When conceiving the idea for “The Last Justice,” Franze came up with McKenna’s job — Solicitor General — before coming up with the character of McKenna himself.

“I thought it was a great backdrop for a main character because the Solicitor General’s office is one of these great institutions where the Solicitor General is the United States’ representatives. One of the principal jobs of the SG is to represent the United States and the United States Supreme Court,” said Franze. “On the fifth floor of the Justice Department, there’s this group of tremendous legal talent who are involved in some way every case in the Supreme Court. Yet the public really knows very little about this office, and I would say few lawyers know about this office. I thought it was a great opportunity to give readers a glimpse into this fascinating yet insular world of this great institution. That was how I initially sketched out the character. From there, as any character you write, they slowly become a person; some things you plan, some things you don’t.”

Asked if McKenna is his alter-ego, Franze answered with a resounding no.

“Almost every character, including the protagonist, is either corrupt or deeply flawed. I’m not one of these writers who bases the main character after themselves – it’s all imaginary,” said Franze. “He’s certainly not my alter-ego.”

For Franze, the best part about writing this novel was writing about the Supreme Court.

“I got to write something I was familiar with and also introduce readers to an institution a lot of people don’t know too much about. It’s not only an important institution, it’s also got an air of mystery about it,” he said. “People know it exists, but somebody once did a survey and more of the public could identify Judge Judy before they could a Supreme Court justice. I took something I love and try to integrate accurate Supreme Court history and procedures into what I hope is a fast-paced story and introduce readers to a fascinating world.”

He is currently at work on his second novel, but would not say too much about it nor would he say when it would be published. The only thing he could say for certain is that McKenna would not be in it because it’s too difficult to serialize a character like him.

“I’ve always dabbled in fiction over the years, especially when I was a kid. When I was in college, my creative focus the rock band I was in. When my first son was born, I was up at all odds hour and started dabbling in fiction again,” he said. “I think it’s a great creative outlet; it’s fun. Unlike legal writing, if facts aren’t going your way in fiction writing, you can make it up as you go. I don’t know if it was (New York Times best-selling novelist) John Grisham or somebody whose rules of fiction writing was: If things get boring, you bring in somebody with a gun. It’s a lot of fun to let your imagination run wild and see where a story takes you.”
 

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