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The Smoking Gun by Gerry Spence (Scribner, 448 pages, $30) The Smoking Gun is at once both an amazing tale of the Jones family’s abusive interaction with the Oregon judicial system and a chronicle of Gerry Spence’s quest, as their defense attorney, to save Sandy Jones and her son from prosecution. Unfortunately, Spence’s laudable efforts to assist the Jones family are often overshadowed by his sanctimonious-sounding declarations about the legal system. The Smoking Gun provides a blow-by-blow account of the trials of both Sandy Jones and her minor son Little Mike. Both of them were charged with various felonies relating to the shooting death of Wilfred Gerttula, a real estate developer in Oregon. Spence, the author and famous defense attorney based in Wyoming, describes how he became entangled in these trials after a woman named Carol Van Strum pleaded with him to help the Joneses. Once Spence decided to assist the family, he became privy to the long hostile relationship between the victim and the Jones family and the extraordinarily bad treatment that the Joneses had already received at the hands of the political and judicial systems in Oregon. Spence describes how these revelations emboldened him to take up the Joneses’ cause on a pro bono basis. As lead attorney, Spence became responsible for the defense of the Joneses and in such capacity he was able to thwart overzealous prosecutors and seemingly biased judges to ultimately have Sandy and her son declared not guilty on all charges related to the killing. Spence summed up his reaction to this case and many of his other cases by stating, “Without anger a trial lawyer is just a mannequin mouthing meaningless legalisms.” Throughout The Smoking Gun, Spence details how the prosecution not only used every conceivable tactic to convict his clients, but also threatened to bring ethical charges against Spence, which could have led potentially to his disbarment. Spence states that in this case, as well as in others, he was afraid for both himself and the defendants, but he states, “When fear comes welling up, you decide how it will move you � to run away or to charge. I always found it easier to charge.” The Joneses had many strikes against them when they interacted with the system. They were poor. They lived in rural Oregon in an area that seemed to have its own form of feudal caste system, and the Joneses were clearly on the lower rungs of this system. The victim was a prominent, wealthy member of the community traveling in the same social circles as the prosecutors and judges. Spence obviously believes that the humiliations and violations visited upon the Joneses are indicative of how poor defendants, without high-priced legal help, are treated much of the time by the American judicial system. Throughout The Smoking Gun, Spence reiterates that the shameful treatment the Joneses endured at the hands of prosecutors, judges, prison guards, and other members of the judicial/penal system is a cautionary tale for all citizens of the United States. Spence virtually shouts from the rooftops that if one person’s constitutional rights are violated or trampled on, then all of us are potential victims. In this vein, he pleads with the reader to remember that if one prosecutor anywhere can disregard the truth in a lustful search for a conviction, then we are all in danger. He beseeches the reader to empathize with the Joneses and all people like the Joneses who are not fortunate enough to have star defense attorneys willing to work for free. Spence’s observations about the American judicial system in general, and the Joneses’ case in particular, are often poignant and thought provoking, yet his comments often read with so much bravado that they lose some of their effect. Like the parent who continually lectures a child, or like the scolds now populating the political arena (either on the left or right) concerning such issues as smoking or traditional morality, Spence often makes good points but in a manner that may cause the reader to tune out. I was surprised to find myself often rooting for the Joneses, but against their lead attorney. Spence has a saying that he repeats throughout the book, which is “Do not cross this bridge until you get here.” Spence used this saying to warn his colleagues to not get ahead of themselves with fear about the future. Spence attempted to get his colleagues to deal only with the immediate issues in front of them, instead of worrying about how legal maneuvers would play out down the road. As I was reading this book, I wished that I could have abided by this advice. However, I found myself constantly flipping to the back of the book to see how many pages I had remaining, instead of dealing with the page right in front of me. Ross Weiner is an in-house attorney in the San Francisco Bay area.

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