A poor-boy college football hero turned successful partner at a prominent Dallas firm—who long ago checked his conscience at the door—catches a case that forces him to choose between his enviable lifestyle and doing the right thing in this masterful debut legal thriller.
Clark McCall, ne’er-do-well son of Texas millionaire senator and presidential hopeful Mack McCall, puts a major crimp in his father’s election plans when he winds up murdered—apparently by Shawanda Jones, a heroin-addicted hooker—after a tawdry night of booze, drugs, and rough sex.
Scott Fenney, who’s worked his way to being a partner at an elite Dallas law firm, is assigned to provide Shawanda’s pro bono defense after the federal judge on the case hears him deliver an inspiring, altruistic—and completely insincere—speech to the local bar association. Scott plans to farm the case out to an old law school buddy, do-good-attorney Bobby Herrin. But his plans go awry when Shawanda puts her foot down in court and refuses to be passed off to the lawyer she considers the lesser attorney.
As the case unfolds, pressure is exerted on Scott to deter him from being too aggressive in his defense of Shawanda. That pressure becomes palpable as Scott is slowly stripped of the things he’s come to care for most. Will he do the right thing—at a terrible cost—or the easy thing and keep his hard-earned fabulous life?
With echoes of early John Grisham, THE COLOR OF LAW is a provocative page-turner that marks the stunning debut of a major new talent.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
MARK GIMENEZ grew up in Galveston County, Texas. Once a partner at a major Dallas firm, Gimenez gave it up in order to start his own single practice and to write. He lives outside Fort Worth with his wife and two sons.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
What's the difference between a rattlesnake lying dead in the middle of a highway and a lawyer lying dead in the middle of a highway?" He paused. "There are skid marks in front of the snake."
His bar association audience responded with polite laughter and diplomatic smiles.
"Why did New Jersey get all the toxic waste dumps and California get all the lawyers?" He paused again. "Because New Jersey had first choice."
Less laughter, fewer smiles, a scattering of nervous coughs: diplomacy was failing fast.
"What do lawyers and sperm have in common?" He did not pause this time. "Both have a one-in-a-million chance of turning out human."
All efforts at diplomacy had ended. His audience had fallen deathly silent; a sea of stone faces stared back at him. The lawyers on the dais focused on their lunches, embarrassed by their guest speaker's ill-advised attempt at humor. He looked around the crowded room, as if stunned. He turned his palms up.
"Why aren't you laughing? Aren't those jokes funny? The public sure thinks those jokes are funny, damn funny. I can't go to a cocktail party or the country club without someone telling me a stupid lawyer joke. My friends, we are the butt of America's favorite jokes!"
He adjusted the microphone so his deep sigh was audible, but he maintained steady eye contact with the audience.
"I don't think those jokes are funny, either. I didn't go to law school to be the butt of cruel jokes. I went to law school to be another Atticus Finch. To Kill a Mockingbird was my mother's favorite book and my bedtime story. She'd read a chapter each night, and when we came to the end, she'd go back to the beginning and start over. 'Scotty,' she'd say, 'be like Atticus. Be a lawyer. Do good.'
"And that, my fellow members of the bar, is the fundamental question we must ask ourselves: Are we really doing good, or are we just doing really well? Are we noble guardians of the rule of law fighting for justice in America, or are we just greedy parasites using the law to suck every last dollar from society like leeches on a dying man? Are we making the world a better place, or are we just making ourselves filthy rich?
"We must ask ourselves these questions, my friends, because the public is asking the same questions of us. They're questioning us, they're pointing their fingers at us, they're blaming us. Well, I've asked myself these questions, and I have answers, for myself, for you, and for the public: Yes, we are doing good! Yes, we are fighting for justice! Yes, we are making the world a better place!
"And ladies and gentlemen, if you elect me the next president of the state bar of Texas, I will tell the people exactly that! I will remind them that we wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, that we fought for civil rights, that we protect the poor, defend the innocent, free the oppressed. That we stand up for their inalienable rights. That we are all that stands between freedom and oppression, right and wrong, innocence and guilt, life and death. And I will tell the people that I am proud, damn proud, to be a lawyer . . . because lawyers--do--good!"
Now, some might blame the Texas summer heat, but the audience, lawyers all--lawyers who had never protected the poor or defended the innocent or freed the oppressed, lawyers who stood up for the rights of multinational corporations--believed his words, like children who were old enough to know the truth about Santa Claus but who clung desperately to the myth anyway. They rose as one from their seats in the main dining room of the Belo Mansion in downtown Dallas and, with great enthusiasm, applauded the tall thirty-six-year-old speaker, who removed his tortoise-shell glasses, pushed his thick blond hair off his tanned face, and flashed his movie-star smile. He took his seat on the dais behind a nameplate that read A. Scott Fenney, ESQ., Ford Stevens LLP.
As the applause grew louder, the corporate tax lawyer whom Scott was campaigning to succeed as the next state bar president leaned in close and whispered, "You know, Scotty, you've got an impressive line of bullshit. Now I see why half the coeds at SMU dropped their drawers for you."
Scott squeezed the knot of his silk tie, smoothed his $2,000 suit, and whispered back through brilliant white teeth, "Henry, you don't get laid or elected telling the truth."
He then turned and again acknowledged his fellow members of the bar, all standing and applauding him.
Except for one lawyer. Sitting alone in the back of the dining room, at his usual table, was an older gentleman. His thick white hair fell onto his forehead. His bright eyes remained sharp at long distances, but he wore the black reading glasses to eat. He was not a tall man, and his slightly hunched posture made him appear almost short. Even so, he was a lawyer the other lawyers either avoided outright or approached with great caution, like vassals to their lordship, waiting patiently for him to look up from his chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie and acknowledge them with a nod or, on the best of days, a brief handshake. But never did he stand. Come hell or high water, United States District Court Judge Samuel Buford remained seated until he was through eating. Today, though, as he dwelled on the young lawyer's speech, a slight smile crossed his face.
A. Scott Fenney, Esq., had just made a tough judicial decision easy.
The Ford Stevens Law firm occupied floors fifty-five through sixty-three in Dibrell Tower in downtown Dallas. The firm's remarkable financial success was predicated on its two hundred lawyers billing an average of two hundred hours a month at an average of $250 an hour, grossing an average of $120 million a year, and racking up average profits per partner of $1.5 million, putting the Dallas firm on a par with Wall Street firms. Scott Fenney had been a partner for four years now; he pulled down $750,000 a year. He was shooting to double that by the time he was forty.
One of fifty partners, his perks were many: a personal secretary, two paralegals, and four associates working under him; reserved parking in the underground garage; dining, athletic, and country club memberships; and an enormous corner office on the sixty-second floor facing due north--the only direction worth facing in downtown Dallas. He especially loved his office, the wood-paneled walls, the mahogany desk, the leather furniture, the genuine Persian rug imported from Iran on the hardwood floor, and on the wall, the five-foot-square framed field-level blowup of himself, number 22 on the SMU Mustangs, running for 193 yards against the Texas Longhorns the day Scott Fenney became a local football legend. Keeping all these coveted perks required only that Scott serve the firm's corporate clients with the same devotion the disciples showed Jesus Christ.
It was an hour after his bar association speech, and Scott was standing on his Persian rug and admiring Missy, a twenty-seven-year-old ex-Dallas Cowboy cheerleader who ran the firm's summer clerkship program. In the fall of each year, Ford Stevens lawyers fanned out across the country to interview the best second-year students at the best law schools in the nation. The firm hired forty of the top candidates and brought them to Dallas the following summer to work as summer clerks for $2,500 a week plus room and board, parties, alcohol, and at some firms, women. Most partners in large law firms had been frat rats in college, so most summer clerkship programs had all the markings of fraternity rush. Ford Stevens's program was no exception.
Thus the first Monday of June brought the invasion of forty summer clerks, like Bob here, each trying to catch the eye of powerful partners, the partners in turn trying to divine if these budding legal eagles were the Ford Stevens type. Bob was. From the look on the face of the law student standing next to Missy, he was dreaming of having just such an office one day. Which meant he would bill two hundred hours a month for the next eight years without complaint or contempt, at which time the firm would show him the door--the odds of a new associate making partner at Ford Stevens being one in twenty. But the ambitious students still signed on because, as Scott himself told them, "You want odds, go to Vegas. You want a chance to get filthy rich by the time you're forty, hire on with Ford Stevens."
Scott pulled his eyes off Missy and turned to his frumpy middle-aged secretary standing in the door.
"Four calls are holding--your wife, Stan Taylor, George Parker, and Tom Dibrell."
Scott turned back to Missy and the student and shrugged.
"Duty calls." He shook hands with the pale, homely, top-of-his-class student and slapped him on the shoulder. "Bob--"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Now, Rob, my Fourth of July bash, that's mandatory attendance."
"Yes, sir, I've already heard about it."
To Missy: "You bringing some girls over this year?"
"Ten?" Scott whistled. "Ten ex-Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders." The firm paid each girl $500 to spend a few hours in bikinis acting interested in law students. "Bob--"
"Right. You'd better work on your tan, Rob, if you want to snare one of those cheerleaders."
Rob grinned even though he had about as much chance of getting a date with an ex-Dallas Cowboy cheerleader as a one-legged man had winning a butt-kicking contest.
"Mr. Fenney," Rob said, "your speech at the bar luncheon, it was truly inspiring."
First day on the job and the boy was already brownnosing like an experienced associate. Could he possibly be sincere?
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