Lawyers Journal

Jake Dellahunt: Vineyard Lawyer with an Office on the Cape

Reviewed by Lynn S. Muster

Comprised of separate, largely unrelated, chapters, the short tales in this book unfold akin to a "Murder, She Wrote" episode, i.e., in a folksy, informal way without legalese. This simplicity makes the book accessible to novices, with each chapter a separate legal case of the protagonist, Attorney Jake Dellahunt. Although the book, overall, was entertaining, it is not at all realistic; not even close. The cases in each chapter wrap up a little too neatly, a little too quickly. For lawyers, it just might not satisfy a yen for twisted or complex legal drama.

For example, in a climactic moment of cross-examination, Jake does not catch the witness in a tangle of lies or prior inconsistent statements, but nevertheless asks a long-winded question, laying out many facts not in evidence. The witness "look[s] pathetic. Unable to answer, he folded like a card table." Not in too many courtrooms would a question in that form be asked without a strenuous, and sustained, objection following it. And in not too many courtrooms would a witness fold so dramatically, never mind "like a card table."

Character development also is limited by the chapter format. Jake possesses some nuance in this short book, as do one or two minor characters. But, like the unrelated cases in the average lawyer's client files, each chapter has new actors and new relationships, which does not lend itself to much in-depth exploration of personalities and backstories.

And then there was the troubled relationship Jake has with his older son, which (spoiler alert) resolves mid-book after the son gets into trouble on a jet ski and needs to be rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. The relationship does not resolve because Jake had much to do with the rescue, nor because the son saw Jake in action in the courtroom and admired his legal acumen. Instead, the resolution evolves almost sua sponte, with little grounding in the storyline, when the son tritely asks Jake to resume calling him, "Little Jake," a nickname from which the son had disassociated earlier in the book.

In provincial Massachusetts, readers will enjoy the local flavor of Martha's Vineyard, i.e., "the island." Despite this, here are minor inaccuracies regarding the legal system. First, Massachusetts courts refer to their courtroom security personnel as court officers, not "bailiffs," as written in the book. Another inaccuracy, though perhaps merely poetic license, is when Jake tells a potential client, "They don't charge anyone with intent to sell for holding a couple of ounces" of marijuana. The criminal dockets in the commonwealth are full of distribution charges for those possessing quantities less than "a couple of ounces," which is almost 57 grams and,  criminal practitioners know, it is illegal for any amount of marijuana to be sold.

Despite these shortcomings for its legal readership, the book can be completed in a weekend, and it will not tax the reader's mind. And, in the cold, hard, depths of a Boston winter, it might be enjoyable to suspend reality, to read -- and dream -- about summer on the Vineyard.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association