The Defense Is Ready: Life in the Trenches of Criminal Law

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The Defense Is Ready is about the making of a passionately committed American defense lawyer who believes that everyone accused of a crime, no matter how heinous, is entitled to a vigorous defense of his rights against the overwhelming power of a frequently callous state. Leslie Abramson's journey from eager young law clerk to one of the nation's premier homicide attorneys involved some of the most difficult and notorious criminal cases of the last two decades. Among those she describes with a frank insider's eye...
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Overview

The Defense Is Ready is about the making of a passionately committed American defense lawyer who believes that everyone accused of a crime, no matter how heinous, is entitled to a vigorous defense of his rights against the overwhelming power of a frequently callous state. Leslie Abramson's journey from eager young law clerk to one of the nation's premier homicide attorneys involved some of the most difficult and notorious criminal cases of the last two decades. Among those she describes with a frank insider's eye are the Bob's Big Boy case, which involved the murders of employees and patrons during the robbery of a popular Los Angeles restaurant; the Chinatown trial in which defense sleuthing finally unraveled the mystery that surrounded the slaying of one police officer and the wounding of another by young Chinese gang members; and the startling acquittal she won for an immigrant Pakistani doctor accused of murdering and dismembering his own young son. Finally, Abramson describes the series of disturbing and thought-provoking trials in which she undertook the defense of battered wives and abused children ultimately driven to kill their tormentors. Most celebrated among these were the two death penalty murder trials in which she represented Erik Menendez, who, along with his brother, killed his parents after years of sexual and emotional abuse.

In this riveting exploration of the law, the courts, and how they really work, one of the most brilliant, flamboyant, and controversial lawyers of our time tells what it's like to be a defense attorney in late 20th-century America. Leslie Abramson has twice been named Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Bar Association. 16 pp. of photos. 304 pp. National print ads. National author publicity. 150,000 print. (Autobiography)

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Crafty counselor that she is, Abramson mentions in the first sentence of this outspoken, self-promoting memoir her greatest claim to fame: she was a defense attorney for one of the Menendez brothers. The shadow of that case stretches over Abramson's entire narrative, even over her childhood memories of growing up Jewish in 1950s Queens, N.Y.: "I can see now how children come to love their mothers automatically. It must take an almost unimaginable degree of pain to ever make a child not love a mother." The book opens with a case Abramson handled between the two Menendez trials. A bouncer emptied 15 rounds into three men, killing two; with Abramson's help, he walked. With this case, Abramson introduces the idea of preemptive self-defense, offering legal insights that are sharp and knowing. When she finally gets to the Menendez case, however, Abramson fails to address adequately several key questions: Why didn't the boys just leave? Why did Lyle finish off his mother with that second gruesome shotgun blast? Why was Abramson pulled from Lyle's defense for the second trial? A conversational style and colorful case histories provide some balance to Abramson's manipulative account of the trial-but not enough, particularly given the accompanying ax-grinding and score-settling. Menendez buffs will want to buy this, but most armchair lawyers will find more edifying fare in the books of Gerry Spence or, looking backward, of Louis Nizer. Photos. 150,000 first printing. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In her trademark no-holds-barred style, defense attorney Abramson delivers a fascinating, blistering attack on her foes in and out of the courtroom, naming names and blasting the media. Her book covers her 27 years of practice and begins with her childhood in New York, the father who abandoned her, her training in the Los Angeles Public Defender's Office, and her success in high-profile criminal cases, most notably in the first trial of Erik and Lyle Menendez. Abramson provides a sympathetic insider's view of the defense of sordid crimes; her narrative is a pleasure to read but not for the squeamish. She also brushes aside charges of misconduct in the editing of a psychologist's notes in the Menendez case. For another view of one of her famous cases, involving a police office murdered in Chinatown, see Lawrence Taylor's The D.A. (LJ 7/15/96). For popular law collections.-Harry Charles, Attorney-at-Law, St. Louis, Mo.
Kirkus Reviews
Erik Menendez's defense attorney proves why she's one of the best in the business.

For 20 years predating her controversial representation of the younger Menendez brother, Abramson worked on behalf of accused baby-killers, bank robbers, and hit men, both in private practice and for the public defender's office in L.A. More than a collection of war stories, this book shows how the attitudes and tactics evident in the Menendez defense informed Abramson's work from the beginning. Her willingness to withhold judgment, to become immersed in the life of her client, and to argue like hell—not necessarily for exoneration but for a "fair verdict"—are trademark Abramson strengths. Writing (with the aid of New York Times editor Flaste) in the frank, street-smart style familiar to those who watched her TV commentary during the Simpson trial, Abramson shows how she's been staring down bullies since her turbulent childhood in Queens, NY. Seven years as a public defender exposed her to an "astonishing number . . . of remarkably stupid, totally crazy or deplorably lazy" judges whom she charmed and dominated ("No one had to tell me how to take over a courtroom"). In 1981, four years into her private practice, she represented one of the killers in the Bob's Big Boy massacre, that year's "crime of the century." Despite her ferocious defense, she lost the case—"all the way to the death penalty." But from then on she was on the shortlist for high-profile capital cases. Abramson clearly relishes describing her courtroom tactics and behind-the-scenes maneuvers, so it is disappointing that she confines her commentary on the Menendez trial to a summary of the facts of that case, a few choice words for Judge Stanley Weisberg, and a plea to "pull the plug" on cameras in the courtroom.

Despite the surprisingly short shrift given to the Menendez trial, a terrific introduction to criminal defense by a master practitioner.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684814032
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 2/18/1997
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.45 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.12 (d)

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