Monday, December 04, 2006

Messy Personal Politics...

by Sean Chercover

In the current issue of the Chicago Reader, John Conroy exposes massive conflict of interest among Cook County’s criminal judges. These jurists are handing down rulings on postconviction petitions relating to cases in which they were directly involved as prosecutors, years earlier. Since many Assistant State’s Attorneys grow up to be criminal court judges, this seems a widespread problem.

The most absurd conflict, Conroy writes, is the case of Judge Nicholas Ford, who ruled to uphold a confession that he, himself, had written as an ASA.

It would be the stuff of high comedy, if not for the fact that the convict in this case is claiming that his confession was a product of police torture.

Interesting that, as I write this, I have the urge to insert a disclaimer pointing out that most cops are good people doing good work, etc. Should go without saying. But Chicago has had a few very bad apples. The University of Chicago has a website devoted to the torture inflicted by former CPD commander Jon Burge and his thugs. Also on the site are statements made by some very brave CPD detectives who came forward. The statements make for sobering reading.

But this post isn’t about good cops and bad cops. It’s about the personal politics inherent in the judicial system. . .and how this informs the way we approach crime fiction.

Obviously, a judge is ethically bound to recuse him- or herself from a situation such as Ford’s. But Judges routinely make rulings on the work of former colleagues and friends and lovers and rivals. Real life is messy that way, which is a good thing for crime fiction writers. The personal politics at work among cops and prosecutors and defense lawyers and judges offer the opportunity to take these characters beyond type.

Who are your favorite writers in this regard?


PS: The Outfit is stepping out on the town! Starting this coming weekend, The Outfit will be making some public appearences together, and we'd love to see y'all in person. You can find our event schedule on the right-hand sidebar of our main page.


The Home Office said...

Scott Turow, hands down. He exposes these conflicts without over-dramatizing them into soap operas.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Michael Connelly does amazing work using the politics and conflicts of interest inherent in policing. Also, the writers of The Wire do some unbelievable things with politics and the machinations behind it.

Michael Dymmoch said...

William Landay comes to mind--MISSION FLATS.

Sara Paretsky said...

Gary Phillips writes so well about police, community, justice and law in Los Angeles. More people need to know his work. Gary grew up in South-Central LA and worked there as a community organizer. He doesn't write as a voyeur, the way too many noir writers do, but as a passionate part of the community--and he tells wonderful stories to boot.

Sean Chercover said...

I'm a big fan of Gary Phillips. I completely agree with you, Sara. More people need to read Gary Phillips.

I also agree that Connelly and Turrow both do great work with the interpersonal politics of the justice system.

Michael - thanks for the recommendation. I've put William Landay on my list of authors to check out.

Adam Hurtubise said...

I agree with the home office: Scott Turow, hands down.

John Holton said...

My favorite is Sheldon Siegel and his Mike Daley series.