Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Book Review: Courtroom 302.

Journalist Steve Bogira of the Chicago Reader spent a year in a Chicago criminal courtroom in 1998.

He wasn't a defendant. Instead, he observed the proceedings to write, Courtroom 302, published in 2005.

The passage of seven (7) years explains some features of the book. With so much time to write the tome, Bogira unfortunately gets lost in minutiae. While helpfully importing some background information, Bogira includes too much extraevidentiary material, and injects unnecessary political opinions. The book shifts between the objective third-party journalistic voice to the subjective first-person with jarring alacrity.

The book often bogs down in details about people you won't know about. Bogira covers trials that are mostly pedestrian. After all, he covered whatever cases came up on the docket, not necessarily those that might have deserved coverage. However, this focus on the mundane serves Bogira's larger polemic.

Folks, this is agenda journalism. Clearly, the book clearly takes issue with the country's anti-drug policies and uses pathetic stories of people caught in webs of addictions and prosecutions to argue this larger point.

Law students and fledging trial lawyers, this book does not offer any particularly helpful insights into how to be a skillful trial attorney. Surprisingly, the book hardly provides any interesting interrogations from the stand. When Bogira did so, it paid off. Here's the amusing anecdote:

"'Well, this morning, sir you said, "I don't recall" approximately one hundred times. Would that be correct?'"

"I don't recall". (p. 273.)

Not all cases covered in Courtroom 302 were the nickel-and-dime variety. The book crescendos with a "heater". In its parlance, a "heater" is a controversial case garnering a lot of public attention. The book ends with an in-depth look into this racially-tinged case, with Jesse Jackson weighing in, with allegations of mob ties, and even a political campaign to remove the trial judge.

On balance, however, this interesting case does not justify the $25 retail price tag. If you receive it as a gift, or your library has a copy, go ahead and read it. Otherwise, look elsewhere.