Criminal Justice Section
Criminal Justice Magazine
Volume 19 Number 3
Author Milton Hirsch Briefly
By Carol Garfiel Freeman
Editor’s Note: Lawyer/novelist Milton Hirsch’s acerbic style and wry tone comes through in this recent interview conducted via e-mail by Carol Garfiel Freeman, Criminal Justice editorial aboard member and former chair of the Section’s Book Committee.
Milton Hirsch, the author of the ABA’s first published novel, The Shadow of Justice, works days as a partner in the Miami law firm of Hirsch & Markus LLP. A 1982 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Hirsch started his law career as an assistant state’s attorney for Miami-Dade County, and later served as assistant chief of the narcotic prosecution section. He switched sides in 1985 and has been engaged in a general criminal defense practice representing, as he says, the general run of “flawed” humanity, as well as defendants in notable public corruption cases and white-collar crime prosecutions. Hirsch has served as a past president of the Miami chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and as an adjunct professor at Nova University Law Center and St. Thomas University School of Law.
The Shadow of Justice is his first foray into fiction; however, Hirsch is also the author of the well-regarded Hirsch’s Florida Criminal Trial Practice, and has published numerous articles on different aspects of criminal and constitutional law.
And now, for something completely different . . .
CJ: Particularly in the last 10 years or so several trial lawyers have turned to writing fiction with a legal setting. How did you come to write The Shadow of Justice?
Hirsch: I wrote The Shadow of Justice about half-a-dozen years ago. It was a time in which I was experiencing a loss of faith in the legal system and in my own ability to add my grain of sand to the edifice of justice.
CJ: Plainly you’ve drawn on your knowledge of the Miami legal system. Are the characters in the book––judges, lawyers, police, others––based on actual people in the legal community, perhaps as composites?
Hirsch: Nope. The characters are fictional people who’ve been inhabiting my head rent-free for some time now.
CJ: In addition to courtroom proceedings that are integral to the story, you include numerous anecdotes about judges and police. Are these based on actual incidents you’ve witnessed or heard about? I think particularly of your description of the “electric chair form.”
Hirsch: In a general way, yes. I’ve been practicing criminal law in the Miami area most of my adult life. Miami is to crime what Cuba was to cigars and Bordeaux is to red wine.
CJ: Did you do any special research in preparing to write the book, for example, attending writers’ workshops, or reading other books of this genre to get ideas for plotting and characterization?
Hirsch: No, the book really wrote itself.
CJ: How long did it take to write the book? Did you have a regular schedule for writing, or did you pick it up only when you found some free time?
Hirsch: If I recall correctly, [it took me] just short of a year. Sometimes I set aside time to write, but often it was just a case of finding a few empty hours when a hearing was canceled, or a meeting was rescheduled—or the client who was set for trial fled the jurisdiction.
CJ: Did you have the plot in its final form in mind when you started writing, or did it develop as you wrote?
Hirsch: The plot came to me complete, just like the poem Xanadu came to Samuel Taylor Coleridge—except that he was in an opium-induced fugue state at the time and I’m not saying that I was.
CJ: I see. Turning to your legal career, did you “always” want to be a lawyer? What led you into trial practice, and criminal trials in particular? Is your practice exclusively criminal and civil rights oriented?
Hirsch: The only good answer to this question is the one Clarence Darrow gave. Late in life he was interviewed by a reporter for a family magazine of some kind. Asked the old bromide—“To what do you owe your success?”—Darrow answered forthrightly: “Hard work.” The answer delighted the interviewer until the old man added reflectively, “Yes, when I was a boy on the farm in Ashtabula I saw an awful lot of hard work. I knew I didn’t want any part of that, so I became a lawyer.”
CJ: Having been both a prosecutor and a defense lawyer, which do you find more challenging? More satisfying? Why?
Hirsch: At this time and place in our political history it’s important, frustrating, challenging, daunting, and absolutely vital to be a criminal defense lawyer. Every branch and level of government seems hell-bent on throwing our precious heritage of constitutional liberties onto the flaming altar of the war on drugs, or the war on terror, or whichever war comes after that. But freedom, easily and carelessly given away, is recovered only with painful difficulty, and sometimes not at all.
CJ: Now that your first novel is about to be published, do you have a second in the works?
Hirsch: I have two more in the works. Please buy them and read them when they come out—or at least buy them. n
Tale of Intrigue Spiced with Wit
The Shadow of Justice follows a week in the life of the Honorable Clark Addison. It’s a week that starts out badly when Metro-Dade homicide investigators awaken the Florida criminal court judge in the predawn hours to tell him his old friend—Detective Ed Barber—is dead. What’s worse, Barber’s wife and teenage son have also been shot and killed in what police at first label a murder-suicide. Addison—no stranger to the underbelly of human nature—is nonetheless in shock, but there’s little time to contemplate the tragedy before the judge is required to make his way to the courtroom and take his place on the bench for that day’s morning calendar, starting with arraignments, which move at lightning speed, and ending with the trials. In between lies the motions section of the calendar—a kind of “personal column for litigants,” the judge reflects.
“Single, incarcerated defendant seeks order suppressing evidence obtained in violation of his constitutional rights.”
“Clean-cut, well-dressed young prosecutor seeks order compelling defendant’s handwriting exemplars.”
“Disgruntled bails bondsman seeks surrender of defendant and discharge of bond.”
Add to the mix Addison’s best friend and former trial partner, Black Jack Sheridan, a deft defense lawyer with an excess of charm, an uncanny way with juries, and “a liver a cat wouldn’t eat,” and the narrative becomes a mixture of wry wit and behind-the-chambers-door guide as Addison gradually untangles a hidden web of lies, deception, and murder—Miami-style. The book is by turns laugh-out-loud funny, crushingly sad, and modestly hopeful—an ultimately satisfying and true-to-life depiction of the sights, sounds, and character of a criminal courtroom.
“Defendants seek a break,” muses Judge Addison, “prosecutors seek a conviction, defense attorneys seek an acquittal and, if they are very lucky, a legal fee. Jurors seek relief from boredom, visitors seek entertainment, victims and family members seek closure. I have no leisure to consider what it is that I seek. Miami has America’s busiest criminal courts. The caseload of a judge in Miami is on average three times that of a judge in Manhattan. I seek not to drown.”
The Shadow of Justice is available directly online at www.shadowofjustice.com or visit the ABA’s new Web store at www.ababooks.org. The book is also on sale at bookstores nationwide and through Amazon.com.