Buying a judge

2008-04-02 00:00

JOHN Grisham may not have invented the legal drama genre but he has certainly made it his own. After a small — but successful — diversion into international espionage and investment fraud with The Broker, Grisham has returned to the courts with The Appeal. But this time, it’s not so much about the trial as about the flaws in the American

judicial and electoral systems. Thirty-one American states elect their high court judges (the others appoint them) and given that we’re currently following the race for the White House, The Appeal is a timely, if depressingly jaundiced, look at how big business buys influence in the United States.

In Mississippi a jury returns a verdict against a chemical company accused of dumping toxic waste into a small town’s water supply and causing the worst cancer cluster in history, and awards massive damages to the plaintiff. (Erin Brockovich, make way for the mom-and-pop team of Paynton & Payton.) The polluting company, obviously, appeals to the state’s highest court to have the judgment reversed.

However, Carl Trudeau, who owns Krane Chemicals, believes the Mississippi Supreme Court is not friendly towards big business, which means he could lose the appeal, and, with judicial elections looming, decides to try to buy himself a judge. The cost is a few million dollars, small change for an avaricious Wall Street billionaire. Through an intricate web of conspiracy and deceit, a young, ambitious but politically naïve advocate is recruited to run as a candidate for a seat on the bench. He is financed, manipulated, marketed and moulded — and only when it is too late does he realise he’s been led by the nose.

The characters may not be fully developed — there’s too much going on to allow for that luxury — but Grisham is in crusader mode, painting a bleak but fascinating picture of the corruption and plutocracy in American politics. One thing is for sure, you’ll never look at U.S. elections the same way again.

Diana Procter

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