Author about to publish follow-up to best seller 'Presumed Innocent'

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

Rusty Sabich is back and so, too, is Scott Turow, his literary creator and author of many a best-seller.

Sabich, in his first literary life, was a 39-year-old assistant prosecutor standing trial for the murder of his lover, who just so happened to be his legal colleague.

The intriguing details were played out in the best-selling novel "Presumed Innocent," a Turow book that made its way onto the silver screen with Harrison Ford in the lead role.

Now comes Part II, this time titled "Innocent," a sure-fire hit in which poor old Rusty is reprising his role as a defendant, accused of killing his wife, the murdering culprit the first go-around.

In this book context, Sabich has aged well, a 60-year-old judge standing for the supreme court. But he hasn't been able to tame his wandering eye, which this time draws him into another affair, again with a legal colleague, his law clerk Anna, some 30 years his junior.

No word yet on whether Harrison Ford will step back into Rusty's shoes when the novel goes into movie-land.

Of course, it would only be fitting that such a sequel is shot in Michigan, where film tax credits abound and "Presumed Innocent" was staged.

I had the pleasure of meeting Turow three years ago when he appeared at a "Happy, Healthy Lawyers" conference at the University of Michigan Law School (sponsored by the WLAM Washtenaw Region).

That day he gave an hour-long talk, encouraging lawyers and others in attendance to follow their "heart" when pursuing career endeavors.

He did as a would-be novelist, displaying a "stick-to-itiveness" that finally paid off after his first literary effort was rejected 25 times before gaining a semblance of acceptance.

A native of Chicago, Turow gained fame in 1977 with the publication of "One L: An Inside Account of Life in the First Year at Harvard Law School." The book offers, as the title suggests, a no-hold-barred look at law school from a student's perspective. It was an idea he conceived prior to enrolling at Harvard Law. The proposal, surprisingly enough received the blessing of a pair of editors who "must have been half-smashed" at the time, according to Turow.

"The book came out during my third year of law school. It would have been better if it had been published after graduation," he said with a smile during his U-M speech.

The book, he related, created a bit of a tempest among some of his fellow students and several overly-sensitive professors who took umbrage at the length of his literary license.

"Those at the law school either liked it or hated it based on how they felt they were portrayed in the book," Turow explained. "It didn't matter that the characters in the book were basically composites of several individuals. Everyone had a strong opinion about who was who."

In fact, one of the professors, who believed he did not receive the most flattering portrayal, tailored an exam question after the supposed indignity.

"It was an exam in his copyright course and the question went something like this," Turow related:

"You are an associate in a law firm. The senior partner introduces you to his client, Professor Perini. The professor has undergone the indignity of having a student write a book about him. Please list all causes of action Professor Perini has against the student, otherwise known as Ray Ripoff."

Following graduation from Harvard, Turow became an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, a job in which he helped root out corruption in the Illinois judiciary. He was one of the prosecutors in the trial of Illinois Attorney General William Scott, who was convicted of tax fraud.

"As I have said many times before, in that job I got a proctologist's view of the legal profession," Turow quipped. "Believe me when I say that it wasn't a pretty sight. The corruption was endemic. I have always had certain issues with the abuse of power and so that job was perfect for me."

From the age of 12, Turow said he "longed" to be a writer. He took that desire to Amherst College where he graduated in 1970 with high honors. That year he received a writing fellowship to Stanford University, eventually teaching creative writing for three years at the Palo Alto school.

"Those years at Stanford were hard, but good," Turow said. "I was surrounded by a lot of other talented young writers. Not all wrote like Ernest Hemingway, but a number of them drank like Ernest Hemingway."

It was as a professor at Stanford that Turow began toying with the idea of law school, a choice that his father "heavily discouraged."

Whether to continue teaching or to enroll in law school was a decision he wrestled with for months, eventually forcing him to "seek the advice of a shrink" in hopes of resolving the dilemma.

"It really came down to sitting in a restaurant and wondering, 'If a contract had been formed when I ordered a hamburger,'" Turow said with a smirk. "I figured then that law school was the right road for me."

Turow's first blockbuster was "Presumed Innocent," a 1987 work that he said took eight years to complete, mostly while he was on commuter trains in the Windy City. His success story snowballed with "The Burden of Proof" in 1990, "Pleading Guilty" in 1993, "The Laws of Our Fathers" in 1996, "Personal Injuries" in 1999, "Reversible Errors" in 2002, "Ordinary Heroes" in 2005, and "Limitations" in 2006.

A partner in a Chicago law firm, Turow specializes in criminal defense cases, including a number of pro bono matters. In one such celebrated case, Turow represented Alejandro Hernandez in a successful appeal of a murder conviction, securing his release from death row after he was exonerated of the killing. Hernandez had spent 12 years in prison for the "conviction," five of them on death row.

While his journey to a career in the law was "not a straight line," Turow said his "love of the profession" has been strong from the outset.

"Our profession can be a refuge for graduates of the liberal arts," said Turow. "It is unfortunate if that is indeed 'your' case. You need an appetite for the law to be successful, and I don't measure success by the bloody billable hour. Indeed, we are beginning to reach the logical end if you begin to calculate the number of 'billable hours' there are in a work week. There is a limit to how hard you can work, especially if you love other people and want to live a semblance of a normal life."

Turow, the successful writer-lawyer, said that he has one unfulfilled dream in his otherwise storied legal career.

"I've always wanted to be a judge," he said during his U-M presentation.

Perhaps now he'll get his chance. After all, there is a certain someone in Washington with ties to Harvard Law School. He even looks kindly on those with Chicago connections. He is a man with some judicial pull. Turow in robes would make for a true storybook ending.

Published: Thu, Jul 8, 2010

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