'Justice' served-- Law professor pens novel

MSU Law Professor Anthony Franze, 41, lives in Chevy Chase, Md. with Traci, his wife of 20 years, and their three children.

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, 41. "On the other hand, 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. 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."

"The Last Justice" 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.

The idea for the book came about when Franze was doing research for an academic article and looking into the Supreme Court confirmation process.

"I know that the process can be controversial, and we all remember the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings," he said. "As I dug in, 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, I realized that replacing just one justice can be a drama-filled, contentious event in our country."

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

When conceiving the idea for the book, Franze came up with McKenna's job--Solicitor General--before coming up with the character of McKenna himself.

"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," he said. "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."

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," he said. "It's not only an important institution, it's also got an air of mystery about it. 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 tried 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.

"I've always dabbled in fiction over the years, especially when I was a kid," he said. "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. 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."

Published: Mon, Mar 26, 2012

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