Stephen Horn

"In Her Defense"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark MAR 3, 2000)

In Her Defense by Stephen Horn at amazon.com

Frank O'Connell has been renting desk space from a law firm while trying to build up his own practice. For the past three years, his practice has consisted mostly of public defendant cases where he is called to assist those that have a legal right to a lawyer but can't pay. Essentially he is making no money. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he's at a point where things are going to require a change, simply because no amount of indecision can stand still forever. The law firm he's renting space from has decided to deter O'Connell's indigent traffic by offering him an "Of Counsel" position claiming they need to add a litigator anyway, and well, he's there.

Right away we begin to see what a stubborn and complicated guy this O'Connell can be. Anyone else would take the position, but he knows, deep down, he's not going to take it. It is no wonder that his marriage is over; that he's been separated for nearly as long as he's been practicing law independently. We slowly start to learn that he really did "throw it all away" once already. He left his father-in-law's high-profile law practice for the type of work that he is doing now. So why doesn't he give in and go back to his father-in-law's firm or even join the one he's currently at? Not even his shrink can really get to the core of this conundrum, except to say he likes risk.

While meeting with a client in the jail cell, O'Connell observes that the beautiful socialite and accused murderess, Ashley Bronson, is in the next cell over. Bronson's uptown lawyers come waltzing into the jail, but having no experience in criminal law, dissolve into near buffoonery. O'Connell helps the lawyers by quietly explaining procedure and providing a form. Apparently this does not go unnoticed by Ms. Bronson. She presents herself to O'Connell the next working day and hires him.

Now this case is interesting. Ashley Bronson clearly reveals that she murdered a man in revenge for something he was doing to cause her own father to commit suicide. As a defense lawyer, it is up to O'Connell to do everything within his power to get a verdict of not guilty, usually by creating doubt in at least one juror. To do his job with the clearest conscious, it is also usually best not to have the client profess that she is guilty, even to her lawyer and the client shouldn't hand over a piece of evidence that, if known about, could prove motive. This case fits the classic law school dilemma which asks if a man hands you a knife with blood on it, do you harbor it to ensure a fair trial for your client or do you turn it over as is legally required. Finally, in any case, having an extreme attraction for the client is definitely bad form. So risk-taker O'Connell proceeds on with the case despite the facts. And what a case this is!

I highly recommend this novel. It is right up there with Scott Turow or Phillip Margolin as far as a lawyer writing a lawyer story goes. I worried from the start that Ashley Bronson would be some kind of misleading femme fatale. When reading fiction, I love it when I'm wrong, which I clearly was in this case. The plot and the lawyer are so full of surprises, and the story line turns out to be huge. Although the first chapter may be misleading, this is no ordinary low down lawyer - this guy has pizzazz and experience and a good detective on his side. Plus a few family ties that count when they need to. From page one, I knew I was going to like this book because of its tone. O'Connell dishes out the story with a factual, but humorous subjectiveness that has the right amount of personal introspection mixed in with good lawyering. There is more to solve than just the case at hand, but when as a lawyer it all comes down to the one case. Once again, the old adage that one should write what they know proves true.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 43 reviews

Read an excerpt from In Her Defense at MostlyFiction.com



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About the Author:

Stephen Horn heads the firm of Schmeltzer, Aptaker & Shepard, P.C. litigation section. He specializes in commercial, franchising and white collar criminal matters.

Mr. Horn graduated cum laude from Seton Hall University School of Law in 1973, where he was Editor of the Law Review. Through its Honors Program, he became a prosecutor with the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and conducted grand juries and trials in districts throughout the United States. His assignments included such matters as Kent State; the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and a plot to murder an environmental activist in one of the last of America's "company towns."

In 1976, Mr. Horn was assigned to a special task force investigating alleged criminal wrongdoing by Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and was charged by the Attorney General to prosecute the first such case brought by the Department. He was subsequently profiled by The Washington Post.

Recent criminal representations involve Medicare and Medicaid, environmental regulation, the Arms Export Control Act, false claims, wire fraud, and mail fraud.

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