John Grisham and class actions
I’ve been away and out of contact with the internet again, but at least it has given me enough time to read some books and to do some thinking about my next novel. I’ve written the first 22,000 words so a long way to go on that. As far as the reading, I found a copy of The King of Torts by John Grisham and read it in a couple of days. It’s an awful title but seems to derive from the way class actions are brought in the USA. The protagonist is Clay Carter, a youngish lawyer working for the Office of Public Defender in Wasington DC. He is assigned the case of Tequila Watson who, inexplicably, has become a killer and murdered an acquaintance known as Pumpkin. Carter begins to explore Watson’s backgound and is puzzled by the lack of motive and the absence of any history of violence. Watson is a drug addict who has been in a rehabilitation program and when Carter makes enquiries at the project he is not convinced he is being told the whole truth.
Overworked and underpaid, Carter is ripe pickings for Max Pace who tells him a major Drug Company is willing to pay compensation to Pumpkin’s family and his legal fees if he is acting on their behalf. The secret he must keep is that Watson along with others were treated as guinea pigs with a drug that ‘cures’ addiction but has a side effect in about 8% of the addicts that makes them a killer. Carter quits his job with the Office of Public Defender and earns himself about $15 million. He justifies his actions to himself by arguing that Watson has no defence to the charge of murder. I don’t know if that would be the case in the US but I think under English Law he would have a defence to murder of not to manslaughter. If the drug that turned him into a killer was given to him by the staff at the rehabilitation project as part of his care program then he would be able to claim his mental state was not self-induced and therefore he was not responsible. I had a similar case when Diego Cogolato killed the dress designer Ossie Clark, under the influence of a combination of illegal drugs and prescribed drugs that made him believe Clark was the devil and he heard voices telling him to kill.
Carter is then told about another drug that is widely prescribe and has the side effect of causing growths in the bladder. He files a claim against the Pharmaceutical Company and advertises for other users to contact his law firm so that a large number of complainants are joined in the same action against the company, a class action. These actions enable lawyers involved in the proceedings to earn large sums of money. The novel describes the way these proceedings take place and the dangers in them. I won’t say anymore because it will spoil the story. In the UK these type of actions are rare although the courts can give consent for what is called a Group Litigation Order but the proceedings are controlled by the Judge. Also cost capping orders are made which limit the amount lawyers can earn. There are no juries in civil cases of this type in England so exemplary damages are rarely given. Although there are proposals to have this kind of collective action in certain cases at the moment any move towards that is very slow.
This book perhaps under scores why American writers of legal thrillers have so much more to write about as the US system provides more drama than the UK one. I was certainly told that it was very difficult to sell a legal thriller/mystery to the publishing industry and that only John Grisham can write them. Are there any writers using the English Criminal Justice System as Grisham uses the US one?
The route to publication has moved on another step. I have checked through the printers proof again. This time instead of doing it on the computer screen I printed a hard copy of my novel. There are 350 pages so I printed four pages using both sides of an A4 sheet of paper. It is beginning to look like a book, with an acknowledgements page and the publication details as well as the publication rights. I found only six changes needed making. I’m sure there are others but I’m missing them. I will get it returned to me again to check there are no more changes necessary. I do hope there are none, as I’m sure the law of diminishing returns sets in and I will fail to spot any mistakes in it.
I think the next version will have the front and back cover in place. We have yet to finalise the draft blurb, so that’s another step
to get through. Interestingly I met a writer friend on Tuesday, who complained that the blurb for her book was written by the publisher and she was not consulted. One of the differences between traditional publishing and independent is the lack of control, once a writer has sold the publication rights, over the presentation of the novel to the public.
The same author expressed how dissatisfied she was with the marketing of her book. I am paying for a marketing campaign, so I do expect some publicity to be generated. The other job I had this week was to answer a questionnaire about my book which included providing another summary of the story and biography which included any media interest in my personal story. During my Twenty-five years at the Bar I did do a number of cases which attracted a great deal of publicity at the time, but most of it was some years ago. I thought two might still attract some media interest today.
The first was the killing of the fashion designer Ossie Clark by his lover Diego Cogolato. Ossie Clark was very successful designer in the 1960’s along with his then wife Celia Birtwell. There is a wonderful painting of them both by David Hockney in the National Portrait Gallery. By 1996 Ossie was living in a one bedroomed council flat in West London and Cogolato under the influence of a mixture of drugs killed him. He was diagnosed as suffering from a drug-induced psychotic state. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and after I mitigated on his behalf he received a sentence of six years.
The other case featured in the newspapers only five years ago, when a young woman called Alex Griffiths was successful in her A level examinations. The Times, no doubt looking for a different angle to report on the announcement of the results chose to write an article about her, because as the baby she was stolen from St Thomas’s Hospital within hours of her birth. A nation-wide search followed, and she was found alive and well three weeks later. I represented the woman who stole her, coincidently also called Griffiths, Janet Griffiths. She too was diagnosed with mental health issues, in this case she had Munchausen’s, not the by- proxy type that has been much in the news over the last few years, but the original illness. She received a hospital order and was released after about eight months. She was to die about four year later of cancer. It is not often a barrister gets to know what happens to the victims and defendants in cases in which they appear, but I am pleased that on this occasion I did.