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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Review of The Hanging Judge: A Novel

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Hanging Judge: A Novel:

Excellent legal novel told from a unique perspective:  that of a federal judge.  The author, a sitting federal judge (although some research revealed he intended to retire soon)*, graphically recreates the events leading up to the trial of a man for a drive-by shooting.  There is a lot of doubt in the minds of the read that Moon, a former gang-member, is actually the shooter.  A cop coming on duty had seen the alleged shooter leap from a car and had identified him originally as a Hispanic, but the pressure to say it's Moon, a black man, now reformed and living with a wife and child, on the cop is substantial.  To make things worse, a bystander, a saintly nurse working in a clinic she had helped to found and  related to a police captain, was killed during the incident.  It's in Massachusetts, which has no death penalty so the state attorney conspires to get the case moved to federal court so they can ask for the death penalty.  The scene is set for a collision between the law, ambition, publicity, and just the little things that can go wrong.  

Whether the author intended it or not, "The Hanging Judge" title carries with it some historical baggage that doesn't fit with the book.  The sobriquet refers to Judge Isaac Parker who presided over the US District Court for what is now most of Oklahoma in the late 19th century.  It was a particularly lawless place and Parker sent 160 men to the gallows. He, certainly, had no compunctions about the death penalty. 

Ponsor writes vividly. The scene in which the police barge in on Moon's house based on the identification of the driver of the car, was so realistic I had to stop reading and skip over some of the paragraphs.  It scared me, and I wasn't there; the confusion, the terror of the inhabitants.  Extraordinary. 

I hope Judge Ponsor writes more. I'll be first in line to buy them. 

N.B. Ponsor happens to be involved in a current case worth watching: Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively. Scott Lively is an attorney, minister, and anti-gay activist who has been sued by an Ugandan civil rights group. You can read Ponsor's most recent judgment in this case denying Lively's motion to dismiss. I'm not a lawyer, but am quite interested in federal cases and this one has interesting ramifications. You can read the judge's memorandum at The case caught my interest because the defendant, Lively, has claimed his First Amendment rights and Judge Ponsor cited Snyder v Phelps (which involved tort claims and "hurtful" speech) in his denial of the motion to dismiss. "Plaintiff contends that Defendant’s conduct has gone far beyond mere expression into the realm not only of  advocacy of imminent criminal conduct, in this case advocacy of a crime against humanity. . ." Remember, this simply clears the way for a trial. 

My thanks to the publisher for making this advance copy available to me.  As always, that influenced my review not one whit.  Technically, it's not available until December.  Put it on your to-buy list.

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