Book Review: Full Courtroom Press By Martin Lion Aronson (BookBaby Publishing, 2022) 425 pages

Issue November/December 2023 November 2023 By Peter Elikann
Civil Litigation Section Review
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Peter Elikann

In the very first sentence of this novel, as Boston trial attorney Mike Lyons shouts, “Shooter, shooter . . . Get down . . . Get down” when a man starts firing a Glock 22 at the crowd in the front entrance to the Suffolk County Courthouse, the storyline takes off at a breathless pace and never lets up.

Ironically, unlike most legal fiction, as exemplified in the work of such authors as John Grisham, where we’ve come to expect the focus typically to be on the more exciting field of criminal law with its rag-tag collection of prosecutors, flawed criminal defense lawyers, and repugnant offenders, the protagonist of Full Courtroom Press labors in the vineyards of civil and probate law. Still, the author, Marty Aronson, the now-retired noted Boston litigator and Boston College Law School professor, makes the inner workings of these areas of practice come alive.

At the same time that the fast-paced plot unfolds, the reader is educated in the nuances and nitty-gritty minutiae of a civil practice negotiating the resolution of lawsuits and obsessive prepping for divorce trials that is anything but boring. It is replete with maneuvers of inside-baseball-type gamesmanship that serve as a master class in the art of trying cases. The attorney who realizes that he could object at trial to an improperly introduced bit of evidence, but decides that to do so will only underscore it and increase the attention of the jury to the damaging evidence. The attorney whose question during cross-examination results in scoring a major point of testimony, then stalls and delays before asking his next question just in order to let that answer sink into the minds of the jurors. The trick of, once one is hired by a client, immediately thinking of the possible closing argument then working backwards to gather evidence in support of that endgame.

It is 1972 and Mike Lyons is consumed with the separate cases of two women so different it is as if they live in alternate universes. His all-encompassing obsession with championing each case to the neglect of family and marriage brings Mike into play with the sexist old saw that “the law is a jealous mistress.”

Katherine Hennessey is a naïve, shy young nun who wants to teach underprivileged children. She looks up to and hangs on every word of her mentor, 50-year-old Father Thomas Riley, who is preparing her for life in the classroom. However, he has other plans, seduces her and convinces her his love is so strong that they will both leave the church and create a life together. Sister Katherine follows through and does leave the religious order, and she is set up in an isolated apartment on the South Shore. Despite his frequent brief sexual assignations, along with his increasingly abusive demeanor toward her, Father Riley never seems to get around to leaving his prominent spot in the clergy. Eventually he abandons her and she is shattered. 

Lyons takes on the case of this broken person, and it looks like a losing battle with just her word against the powerful behemoth of a church with all its resources available to crush her as a pathetic, unbalanced nut. And, as happens in so many cases, Katherine is a client who has not entirely leveled with her attorney, which catches Mike Lyons off guard with her eventual revelation.

Lyons’ other client, Danielle Webb, initially appears as the polar opposite of the meek Sister Katherine. Danielle is an enormously wealthy society woman living in Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill with her two children and husband. She shows up unannounced at his law office with an air of entitlement belied by the fact that her husband has just given her a black eye. She wants custody of her children and a divorce. 

What initially appears as an easy case is anything but. Revelation after revelation quickly comes out undermining her position and, shockingly, she is the one who temporarily loses custody of her children and is ordered by the court to vacate the marital premises. But this is only the opening gun as plot twist after stunning plot twist takes the reader on a nonstop dragon coaster.

Aronson’s storytelling ability and his uncannily remarkable technique of building suspense make this work a page-turner. As a prose stylist, he evokes a mood that swings from the richly comedic to an often-dark world of legal gymnastics where attorneys sometimes will not return the phone calls of other counsel not just for the purpose of being uncivil, but as legal strategy. On the other hand, there can be a collegiality and camaraderie between even the fiercest legal adversaries. Judges undermine other judges behind the scenes. There are the machinations behind the settlement dance of attorneys trying to negotiate the best deal on civil cases. And there is crackling sharp dialogue in the courtroom that is preceded by lengthy, painstaking weeks of trial preparation. 

Lyons has a running Rumpole-like interior monologue going through his head at all times as he second-guesses himself at every turn in his quest for justice or laments at clients who lie to him and opposing lawyers who make moves he would never do. “If only she had told me all about this when I was prepping her,” he thinks as a client makes surprise disclosures on the witness stand. As a solo practitioner trying a case against an attorney from an old-line mammoth corporate law firm, he muses, “If you had been the least bit cooperative, we could have saved this couple a ton of money in legal fees and made a deal. But you needed to milk this thing dry . . . log in as many billable hours as you could.” His ruminations and ponderings have a pattern and rhythm all their own and are in and of themselves an education into the mind of a zealous advocate.

With his ultra-realistic depiction of the day-to-day life of a ploddingly diligent advocate, the author, Marty Aronson, like an old Yiddish teller of parables, manages to wrap his ethical beliefs around a compelling tale.

Peter Elikann is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Executive Management Board, House of Delegates and Criminal Justice Section Council. He practices criminal defense law, is an instructor at Bridgewater State University, and is a legal analyst for Boston 25 News.