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The Color of Law By Mark Gimenez Doubleday/$19.95 Mark Gimenez has good timing. With his novel “The Color of Law,” set in the stifling legal world of Dallas, he presents for inspection the milieu in which Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers was born and cut her teeth. Her alma mater � Southern Methodist University School of Law � is located in lily-white Highland Park, or as Gimenez calls it, “the bubble,” where much of this story takes place. SMU fans beware. Gimenez says it’s not the law school to go to if you want a career on the East Coast, or even outside of Dallas. “They say it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into the law school at SMU than it is one of the sororities or fraternities at SMU. You go to SMU law school if and only if you want to practice law in Dallas, Texas.” That cynical tone runs throughout. For the author, the color of law is now green, especially in the tall towers of Dallas. Gimenez was once a partner at a mega Dallas firm, and he gave it up to go solo and to write. This novel is a kind of legal tell-all. His protagonist, A. Scott Fenney, a former SMU football star and now a $750,000-a-year rainmaker at Dallas powerhouse Ford Stevens, preaches a win-at-all-costs sermon to his associates: “In football and the law, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” But the reward, he tells himself � and the reader, over and over � is “an absolutely perfect life.” But that perfect life is about to change. A federal judge soon hands him the case of Shawanda Jones, a black, East Dallas prostitute with a serious heroin habit. She’s accused of murdering the reckless, spoiled son of a U.S. senator who hopes to use his considerable fortune to buy the U.S. presidency. Subtlety is not this first-time novelist’s strong point, but then maybe that’s just Dallas. It’s easy to tell the guys in black hats from the ones in white. On the one side you’ve got the good-ole-boy senator, Mack McCall, and his friends, or rather the people who owe him big-time, like Ford Stevens’ ruthless managing partner and the developer client who owns half of Dallas and has a penchant for blonde receptionists. There’s Fenney’s wife, the ex-SMU cheerleader with one goal in life � to chair the city’s Cattle Barons’ Ball. And there’s the practice of law itself. On that subject, Gimenez pulls no punches: At one point, Fenney tells his old buddy Bobby, “When you’re playing the game against sleazy plaintiffs’ lawyers like Frank Turner, you play by the same rules they play by. You do whatever it takes to win � because rich clients don’t want ethical lawyers who lose.” Bobby’s one of the white-hats. He’s a scruffy street lawyer who, in his best year, grossed about $27,000, mostly bailing out dopers or fighting evictions. But his clients are loyal, bringing him homemade tamales or naming an illegitimate son after him. Fenney’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter also falls into this column. The 8-year-old Boo and Bobby serve as Fenney’s conscience, along with the circumspect federal judge nearing retirement who thinks he sees something of Atticus Finch hidden in Fenney when he assigns the case to him. Clearly Atticus Finch is Gimenez’s hero, the lawyer to whom no one in the novel can come close to emulating. But just in case we don’t get it, we learn that it was young Scott’s mother’s favorite book, and she read a chapter every night to the future lawyer. Does “Boo” sound familiar? The reader can easily predict the ending, that the ruthless corporate player will in fact make his way down the path of redemption to take a stand for justice, forfeiting his “perfect” life along the way. But Gimenez has written a credible page-turner. It works best during the “whodunit” parts. There’s a thrilling courtroom scene (with definite echoes of “Mockingbird”) that pretty much defines brilliant lawyering. John Grisham he’s not, but he’s trying. And, by the way, the “A.” in A. Scott Fenney stands for Atticus. Kathy McBride is a copy editor with The Recorder.

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