This rich and rewarding volume collects more than two dozen of the most memorable opening and closing arguments made by top prosecutors and defense attorneys of the last one hundred years. Carefully selected to explore every major aspect and challenge of the legal process, these speeches highlight the tactics and strategies, colorful language, and stirring rhetoric that lawyers use to win judge and jury to their side. With a shrewd eye for courtroom stratagems and a keen understanding of the social currents that shape them, Manhattan assistant district attorney Joel Seidemann introduces and illuminates each speech from an insider's perspective. Arguments from landmark trials are included to reveal the smartest tricks of the trial lawyer's trade and demonstrate the power of an impassioned presentation to tip the scales toward the fulfillment of justice.
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About the Author
Joel J. Seidemann has been assistant district attorney for New York County since May 1982, and since 1989 has been senior trial counsel responsible for trying murder cases and other serious and complex crimes. He has been adjunct professor of trial advocacy at Pace University School of Law since 1995, and was named Pace's Outstanding Adjunct Professor of the Year in 1999.
Read an Excerpt
In the Interest of Justice
Great Opening and Closing Arguments of the Last 100 Years
Many of the cases in this book are famous. You have heard of them and probably formed your own opinions of them. They created quite a stir, and though, for some, their time in the limelight has passed, they have not left our consciousness and may not in our lifetime. O. J. Simpson, Al Qaeda moles, the Oklahoma City bombing -- for good or ill, they entered our mental lexicon as paradigms of some principle or larger ethos. They might embody different principles to different people -- indeed, each is a kind of Rorschach test through which we can discern our own worldview. Whatever that may be, they retain the power to touch a raw nerve in all of us and provoke a vivid response.
Despite overblown media impressions, most people still remain confused about what actually happened at many of the trials included in this volume. Why did O. J. win the criminal case and lose the civil one? Why did the jury acquit the cops who shot Amadou Diallo even though they fired forty-one shots at an unarmed man? Why was Sean "Puffy" Combs acquitted of all charges after that mysterious firefight at that nightclub? This book sheds light on these questions.
The first lesson herein is that events in the courtroom always differ from the media rendition. The courtroom's intense enclosed theater creates unparalleled moments of conflict and revelation, and what happens there is more human, more dramatic, more gritty than the media can convey. The truth always is. There's an old joke that best describes what the media does to reality: A mother wheels her firstborn in a stroller. When a friend compliments her on the baby's beauty, the mother replies, "You think she's pretty in real life? You should see the pictures." The media gives us the picture; in the courtroom you see real life.
This is primarily a book of great speeches by some of the best courtroom lawyers of our time, or of any time. The payoff to readers, I hope, is twofold: that they feel both the spell of a master storyteller and the sensation of being personally present at an event they've often heard about from afar. My goal is to place the reader in the jury box, face-to-face with the advocate in full flow, plying his trade, swaying a jury toward the justness of his cause.
Not all of the cases I chose are renowned or even recent. Sure, they are all highly readable and most of the attorneys are terrifically eloquent, but if that were enough, I could fill a whole other volume with different but equally entertaining examples. What is so special about the speeches compiled here? The answer may sound esoteric at first. They stand out as moments -- and I'm not being mystical -- in which a higher witness seems to hover in the courtroom. The courtroom seems to float in an eternal time zone, with the jury of the ages looking on. Maybe it's history being made, or the contagious tabloid buzz in the air, or both of those things and more. Any lawyer who has argued important cases has lived through it at least once, this sensation that the event is suddenly greater than the people involved. That ineffable feeling of transcendence is what unites the cases in this book. And in each instance the lawyers occupy center stage. Their fine-tuned awareness of the setting, of the historic moment, of the jury's -- and often even the whole country's -- mood infuses their rhetoric. At their best -- as in the pages of this book -- their words echo out into a wider consciousness.
The few relatively unknown cases that I feature here have that forever quality, too. Powerful and heartrending, they act as rediscovered snapshots of a haunting time. They are sentencing speeches against convicted murderers from an era when street crime held our cities under perpetual siege. In those years fear and senseless violence felt as inevitable as death and taxes. One more mindless murder, one more statistic, every day, for decades -- who can differentiate them now? As part of my twenty-two years in the New York County DA's office, I have had to live through those anguished courtroom scenes of impervious killers and families in agony virtually every day, or so it seemed. This is my chance to commemorate those victims.
These extracts of opening and closing arguments can be read as intact short stories in which the lawyers unfold the events of each case in a clear, linear plotline -- the best advocacy must do this anyway. To help the reader follow along, I have included an introduction and postscript to each case -- the former sets the scene and the latter explains the verdict, analyzes why one side prevailed over the other, and offers an appreciation of the courtroom skills and tricks displayed by the advocates.
This is a book of classic legal dramas, ranging from the unforgettable to the unbelievable. Both conditions apply in the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, represented here in the form of the famous opening statement by his Israeli prosecutor, who gives a harrowing history lesson on the most horrific crimes in history. Another case that reverberates through the decades is the so-called Scopes monkey trial from the 1920s, which pitted evolution against creationism and later became the centerpiece of the Spencer Tracy movie Inherit the Wind.
Sometimes, however, a trial qualifies for greatness on account not only of its high standard of advocacy but also its extreme comic appeal. The tabloid classic of celebrity sportscaster Marv Albert's prosecution for sexual assault -- in which his alleged hairpiece played a critical role -- is just such an instance. Another is the Bess Myerson case, one full to the brim with characters so absurd that Hollywood could never have dreamed up a zanier story. In other cases the media frenzy surrounding the proceedings -- as in the Puff Daddy and Martha Stewart trials -- made the courtroom feel as though it were situated in the center of the universe -- if only for a few weeks or months.In the Interest of Justice
Great Opening and Closing Arguments of the Last 100 Years. Copyright © by Joel Seidemann. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
|1||A Tale of Two Verdicts: The O. J. Simpson Case||5|
|2||Celebrity Crime in the Spotlight: Marv Albert and Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs on trial||62|
|3||The Green Beret Doctor of Death: The United States of America v. Jeffrey Macdonald||111|
|4||When Criminals Crave the Limelight: Three Defendants Defend Themselves||133|
|5||Street-Crime Sorrows: Sentencing Speeches for Forgotten Victims||152|
|6||An Uphill Battle: The Case Against the Subway Vigilante||164|
|7||In the Name of 6 Million: The Trial of Adolf Eichmann||179|
|8||A Victim of the War on Crime: The Amadou Diallo Case||202|
|9||A War of the Worldviews: The State of Tennessee v. John Scopes||212|
|10||A Confederacy of Dunces: The United States of America v. Martha Stewart||216|
|11||An Epic Affair: Bill Clinton Makes History||227|
|12||The Silkwood Mystery: The Estate of Karen Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corporation||236|
|13||Carnage in Oklahoma: The United States of America v. Timothy McVeigh||258|
|14||A Mother's Nightmare: Augustin Ballinas v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation||290|
|15||High Times and Nepotism at the Koch Court: The United States of America v. Bess Myerson, Andy Capasso and Hortense Gabel||311|