Judge Milton Hirsch has been the subject of news articles for his rulings, including his finding that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is unconstitutional. But outside the courtroom, he creates his own stories, releasing his second book, “Laredo Slider,” a sequel to his 2004 debut novel “The Shadow of Justice.”
Both books center on Clark N. Addison, a fictional Miami criminal-court judge who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law, served as an assistant state attorney and was the youngest man appointed to the bench in Hirsch’s rendition of Miami, where attorneys with such names as Blackjack Sheridan loom over courthouse proceedings.
Hirsch isn’t shy to admit he pulls from his day-to-day experiences and legal know-how to construct Addison’s adventures.
“I always tell my law clerk and my bailiff, ‘If you would just keep a diary, there would be a TV show called “Real Life Bailiffs of the Gerstein Building,” and you’d be on TV every week,’ ” Hirsch quipped.
The judge’s experience on the Miami bench is clear in one poignant scene in the early passages of “The Shadow of Justice,” depicting a bond hearing in a cocaine possession case.
For Hirsch, the real art is balancing nuance and fact, building credulity, and holding reader interest as the plot unfolds.
“There are a number of trials scenes. Some are directly related to the development of the plot and others are seemingly unrelated until you get to the end and you figure out why I was telling you about that trial,” Hirsch said. “Obviously, to write fiction that’s readable, you have to engage in some abridgment, but they are good in the sense that they faithfully reflect what goes on in the courtroom. … I try to confine the trial scenes to allotments that the reader can absorb. Nobody wants to read a trial transcript.”
Yet, there are few similarities between the judge and his protagonist, even as his stories blur the line between fiction and reality.
For starters, Hirsch served as assistant chief of narcotics prosecution with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office before rising to the bench. And although he lectures at the University of Miami School of Law, unlike Addison, he is a Georgetown alumnus.
Plus, Addison leads a more hard-boiled life than the Miami jurist. In both books, he becomes unwittingly entangled in crimes tied to his life and profession. “The Shadow of Justice,” for instance, finds Addison in pursuit of the truth behind his close friend’s murder, while “Laredo Slider” makes him a high-profile witness to a political assassination at Wrigley Field.
Readily citing the likes of authors such as Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, Hirsch has no qualms about wearing his literary influences on his sleeve.
“I don’t know what lesson to draw from this, but the greatest and most influential figures in the genre of detective fiction … had no exposure to the criminal justice system whatsoever,” he said, contrasting his own legal experience against that of his heroes. “Dashiell Hammett actually was a Pinkerton man, so although he didn’t know much about trials, he did know something about real-life investigations. And although he later in life suffered from a variety of psychologically debilitating conditions, ranging from drinking to writer’s block … you’d be hard-pressed to find a single work of detective fiction better than ‘The Maltese Falcon.’ ”
Closer to home, Hirsch defers to an accomplished Florida author for anecdotes on the surreal fodder for fiction that the state and the city of Miami provide.
“Carl Hiaasen claims — and I believe him — that every time he writes a book, they send him on a lecture tour around the country. And he says that inevitably he gets to Des Moines, Iowa, and a little old lady with blue hair walks up to him and says, ‘Oh, Mr. Hiaasen … how do you invent these grossly exaggerated, impossible, fictional vignettes that you claim occur in Miami? How do you dream them up?’ ” Hirsch said. “And he says he has been instructed by his publisher not to say, ‘Lady, you have no idea. I take what happens and I dumb it down until I can sell it to you.’ ”
“ The Shadow of Justice” and “Laredo Slider” are available via Amazon.