Law and Literature

  • 2024 Midyear Meeting, January 2024
    Nashville, TN:  The featured book is Coup:  The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor, Put Republican Lamar Alexander in Office Early and Stopped a Pardon Scandal by Keel Hunt

Coup is the behind-the-scenes story of an abrupt political transition, unprecedented in US history. Based on 163 interviews, Hunt describes how collaborators came together from opposite sides of the political aisle and, in an extraordinary few hours, reached agreement that the corruption and madness of the sitting Governor of Tennessee, Ray Blanton, must be stopped.

Coup is the perfect book for our time as it provides a captivating overview of one of the darkest moments in Tennessee history when the highest ranking officials – from different political parties – came together to do the right thing for the State and its people. You will be fascinated with these presenters, who are also main characters of the book. Each will provide their riveting moment-by-moment personal accounts of their part and how bipartisanship saved the day. It is a great lesson that others could benefit from in today’s often acrimonious and divided leadership at local, state and federal levels.

  • 2023 Annual Meeting, July 2023
    New York, NY:  The featured book is The Sewing Girl’s Tale by John Wood Sweet

The Sewing Girl's Tale is a nonfiction account of the search for justice by 17-year-old Lanah Sawyer, a victim of sexual assault in New York City in 1793. Meticulously researched and well written by University of North Carolina Department of History Professor John Wood Sweet, the book offers a rare perspective on Revolutionary New York. Professor Sweet was awarded the prestigious 2023 Bancroft Prize in American History for this book.

The Sewing Girl’s Tale recounts a brutal crime and the social and legal environment in which it occurred, including the status of women, the legal view of rape, the availability of a civil remedy based upon legal fiction and more. The history of New York City is an integral part of the story. The entire tale takes place in what is now the financial district. The trials were held in Federal Hall on Wall Street. Alexander Hamilton appears as a lawyer for the accused man (with an episode that calls to mind “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” the song written by Lin Manuel Miranda for Hamilton.) This book is a truly successful blend of historical research and compelling narrative.

  • 2020 Midyear Meeting, February 2020
    Honolulu, HI: The featured book is Honor Killing by David E. Stannard

In the fall of 1931, Thalia Massie, the bored, aristocratic wife of a young naval officer stationed in Honolulu, accused six non white islanders of gang rape.  The ensuing trail let loose a storm of racial and sexual hysteria, but the case against the suspects was scant and the trial ended in a hung jury.  Outraged, Thalia’s socialite mother arranged the kidnapping and murder of one of the suspects.  In the spectacularly publicized trial that followed, Clarence Darrow came to Hawaii to defend Thalia’s mother, a sorry epitaph to a noble career.

It is one of the most sensational criminal cases in American history,  Stannard has rendered more than a lurid tale.  One hundred and fifty years of oppression came to a head in thos sweltering courtrooms.  In the face of overwhelming intimidation from a cabal of corrupt  military leaders and businessmen, various people involved with the case—the judge, the defense team, the jurors, a newspaper editor, and the accused themselves—refused to be cowed.  Their moral courage united the disparate elements of the non-white community and galvanized Hawaii’s rapid transformation from an oppressive white-run oligarchy to the harmonic, multicultural American state it became.

  • 2019 Annual Meeting, July 2019,
    Asheville, NC: The featured book is Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo

Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept.  She was able to escape, and eventually positively identified Ronald cotton as her attacker.  Ronald insisted that she was mistaken—But Jennifer ‘s positive identification was the compelling evidence that put him behind bars.  After eleven years, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA test that proved his innocence. He was released, after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he never committed.  Two years later, Jennifer and Ronald met face to face—and forged an unlikely friendship that changed both of their lives.  With Picking Cotton, Jennifer and Ronald tell in their own words the harrowing details of their tragedy and challenge our ideas of memory and judgment while demonstrating the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness.

Jennifer Thompson is the Founder and President of Healing Justice Project, which aims to address the personal toll of wrongful convictions on all involved.

  • 2019 Midyear Meeting, February 2019, Clearwater, FL: Gilbert King, Author of the Devil in the Grove

Gilbert King is the author of three books, most recently, Beneath a Ruthless Sun. His previous book, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2013. A New York Times bestseller, the book was also named runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for nonfiction, and was a finalist for both the Chautauqua Prize and the Edgar Award. King has written about race, civil rights, and the death penalty for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic, and he is a contributor to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. King’s earlier book, The Execution of Willie Francis, was published in 2008. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In 1949, Florida’s orange industry was booming, and citrus barons got rich on the backs of cheap Jim Crow labor. To maintain order and profits, they turned to Willis V. McCall, a violent sheriff who ruled Lake County with murderous resolve. When a white seventeen-year-old Groveland girl cried rape, McCall was fast on the trail of four young blacks who dared to envision a future for themselves beyond the citrus groves. By day’s end, the Ku Klux Klan had rolled into town, burning the homes of blacks to the ground and chasing hundreds into the swamps, hell-bent on lynching the young men who came to be known as “the Groveland Boys.” And so began the chain of events that would bring Thurgood Marshall, the man known as “Mr. Civil Rights,” and the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century, into the deadly fray. Associates thought it was suicidal for him to wade into the “Florida Terror” at a time when he was irreplaceable to the burgeoning civil rights movement, but the lawyer would not shrink from the fight–not after the Klan had murdered one of Marshall’s NAACP associates involved with the case and Marshall had endured continual threats that he would be next. Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, including the FBI’s unredacted Groveland case files, as well as unprecedented access to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund files, King shines new light on this remarkable civil rights crusader, setting his rich and driving narrative against the heroic backdrop of a case that U.S. Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson decried as “one of the best examples of one of the worst menaces to American justice.

  • 2018 Annual Meeting, August 2018, Newport, RI: Patrick J. Kennedy, Author of A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction

Patrick J. Kennedy, the former congressman and youngest child of Senator Ted Kennedy, details his personal and political battle with mental illness and addiction, exploring mental health care’s history in the country alongside his and every family’s private struggles. Mr. Kennedy has become the nation’s leading advocate for mental health and substance abuse care, research and policy both in and out of Congress. And ever since passing the landmark Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act–and after the death of his father, leaving Congress–he has been changing the dialogue that surrounds all brain diseases. A Common Struggle weaves together Kennedy’s private and professional narratives, echoing Kennedy’s philosophy that for him, the personal is political and the political personal. Focusing on the years from his ‘coming out’ about suffering from bipolar disorder and addiction to the present day, the book examines Kennedy’s journey toward recovery and reflects on Americans’ propensity to treat mental illnesses as “family secrets.” Beyond his own story, though, Kennedy creates a roadmap for equality in the mental health community, and outlines a bold plan for the future of mental health policy. Written with award-winning healthcare journalist and best-selling author Stephen Fried, A Common Struggle is both a cry for empathy and a call to action.

  • 2018 Midyear Meeting, January 2018, Las Vegas, NV: Monique Laxalt, daughter of Robert Laxalt, Author of Sweet Promised Land

Sweet Promised Land timelessly explores father/child relationships, acquisition of English as a second language, the dichotomy of immigrant parent/educated offspring, the role of women and the transforming power of education. Dominique Laxalt was 16 when he left the French Pyrenees for America. He became a sheepherder in the Nevada desert and nearby hills of the Sierra. Like all his fellow Basque immigrants, Dominique dreamed of someday returning to the land of his beginnings. Most Basques never made the journey back, but Dominique finally did return for a visit with family and friends. Sweet Promised Land is the story of that trip, told by his son Robert, who accompanied him to the pastoral mountain village of Tardets in France. Dominique came home victorious, the adventurer who had conquered the unknown and found his fortune in the New World. He told of his life in America, the hardships and challenges, and began to realize that he had changed since his departure from Tardets. By the end of the visit, he knew with certainty where he belonged. During the past fifty years, this book has become a classic in Western American literature, still beloved by the Basque-American community.

  • 2017 Midyear Meeting, Scottsdale, AZ: professor Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation, the Power of Talk in a Digital Age

Professor Sherry Turkle is a trained sociologist and licensed clinical psychologist.  She is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT.  “Professor Turkle has spent the last thirty years studying the psychology of people’s relationships with technology.” In Reclaiming Conversation, she “investigates how a flight from conversation undermines our relationships, creativity, and productivity—and why reclaiming face-to-face conversation can help us regain lost ground… Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and the workplace, Professor Turkle argues that we have come to a better understanding of where our technology can and cannot take us and that the time is right to reclaim conversation. The most human—and humanizing—thing that we do.” Watch her Ted Talk.

  • 2016 Summer Meeting, Jacksonhole, WY: C.J. Box, Free Fire, A Joe Pickett Novel

C.J. Box is the author of eleven Joe Pickett novels and has won the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, Gumshoe and Barry Awards.  He lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and has been published in twenty-five countries.

Joe Pickett has been hired to investigate one of the most cold-blooded mass killings in Wyoming history.  Attorney Clay McCann admitted to slaughtering  four campers in the backcountry corner of Yellowstone National park-a “free-fire” zone with no residents or government regulation.  In this remote fifty-square mile stretch a man can literally get away with murder.

  • 2016 Midyear Meeting, Monterey, CA: Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

“Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he Founded the equal justice initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.  One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.  The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.  Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving  window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.”

  • 2015 Summer Meeting, Omaha, NE:Joe Starita, Author of I Am A Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice  

Author and Professor at the University of Nebraska’s College of Journalism.  He was an investigative reporter and New York bureau chief of the Miami Herald.

In 1877, Chief Standing Bear’s Ponca Indian tribe was forcibly removed from their Nebraska homeland and marched to what was then known as Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), in what became the tribe’s own Trail of Tears. I Am a Man chronicles what happened when Standing Bear set off on a six-hundred-mile walk to return the body of his only son to their traditional burial ground.

  • 2015 Midyear Meeting, San Antonio, TX: Mr. Michael Morton, Author of Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace

He spent twenty-five years in prison for a crime he did not commit. This is the story of how Michael Morton finally got justice—and a second chance at life. “Morton poignantly recounts half a lifetime spent behind bars and underscores the glaring errors of our justice system.”

  • 2014 Summer Meeting, White Sulphur Springs, WV: Dean H. King, The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story

Drawing upon years of original research, including the discovery of previously lost and ignored documents and interviews with relatives of both families, bestselling author Dean King finally gives us the full, unvarnished tale, one vastly more enthralling than the myth.

  • 2014 Midyear Meeting, Sea Island, GA: Ms. Melissa Fay Green, Author of Praying for Sheetrock

Our guest speaker was an award-winning journalist who has written for the New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Readers Digest, Newsweek, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications.  She is also the author of There Is No Me without You:  One woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Africa’s Children; Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster, and The Temple Bombing (a National Book award Finalist.  She lives in Atlanta with her husband and seven children.

The Board of the Judicial Family Institute sponsors a seminar for Chief Justices and their families at semiannual meetings of the Conference of Chief Justices. These sessions involve selection of an author and certain of his/her works for pre-conference reading. The sessions are led by the author and are intended to assist judges and their families in exploring complex questions raised by the selected publications.

The scripts or talking points of the authors who facilitate these sessions are posted to this website to provide other judicial families with the unique insights of the authors.

As her historic career winds down, Sandra Day O'Connor recalls her Stanford anxiety, her first job, and the pain and privilege of blazing the trail.

  • 2012 Midyear Meeting, Wilmington, DE: Simmie Knox, "The Painting of a Judicial Portrait"

Simmie Knox is a graduate of Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mr. Knox worked for the original Museum of African Art in Washington, DC and taught at various colleges, universities, and public schools in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the District of Columbia in the early 1970s while he also painted and exhibited as an abstract artist. He participated in the Thirty-Second Biennial of Contemporary American Painting at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Since 1983, Knox has been self-employed and specialized in oil portraiture. He has been commissioned by private individuals, organizations, and institutions to paint portraits of elected officials, cabinet members, supreme court justices, judges, respected civic leaders, clergy, educators, military officers, business leaders, sports figures, entertainment celebrities, and private individuals. Mr. Knox was the first African American artist selected to paint the official portrait of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and the official White House portraits of a President and First Lady. Painting the portraits of Justice Thurgood Marshall, President William Jefferson Clinton, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton were pivotal moments in Knox's art career. Simmie Knox is married, the father of three children, and has one grandchild. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

  • 2011 Summer Meeting, Atlanta, GA: Mark Curriden, "Contempt of Court, The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching that Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism"

This book concerns the case of Ed Johnson, a black man who was wrongly convicted of rape in 1906 and sentenced to death in Tennessee. The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution, but a violent mob, responding to the court’s "interference," drag Johnson from his cell and lynched him.

  • 2011 Summer Meeting, Washington, D.C.: Mary Kay Ricks, Escape on the Pearl - A Reading That Took Place in a Most Appropriate Location

Mary Kay Ricks’ well-regarded novel chronicles the attempt by 77 slaves to escape to the North from Washington, D.C. by hiding on a sailing ship called the Pearl in 1848. Escape on the Pearl tells the story of this heroic bid for freedom through the intimate story of two young sisters, Mary and Emily Edmonsons, who would ultimately trade servitude in elite Washington homes for slave pens in three states. Daniel Drayton, a pioneering abolitionist and one of the lead orchestrators of the slave escape and Edward Sayres, pilot of thePearl, set sail on April 15, 1848, towards the Chesapeake Bay but due to difficult sailing conditions, slave owners eventually caught the Pearl.

  • 2010 Winter Meeting U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas: Mina Orenstein presented an exhibition of Camille Pissarro in the Caribbean, 1850-1855: Drawings from the Collection at Olana.

A thirty-year resident of the Virgin Islands, Ms. Orenstein has spent most of her life involved in the visual and performing arts and publishing.  In early 1994, she was privileged to begin work on Camille Pissarro in the Caribbean, a ground breaking exhibition of early Pissarro works that had been lost to the world for over 100 years. This exhibition which was shown first in St. Thomas, then at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan and at the state Museum in Albany, NY, was produced with support from Chase Manhattan as a part of the Bicentennial Celebration of the historic Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas

  • 2010 Summer Meeting Vail, CO: Thomas G. Andrews, Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War

Thomas Andrews provides the first full-fledged environmental history of Colorado's labor struggle, the spiraling violence between coal miners and mining companies during the Ludlow Massacre and the Colorado Coalfield War of 1913-1914.The Ludlow Massacre of 1914, an infamous event in American labor history is the subject of this bold and detailed story of the impact of the coal mining industry on miners, the land, unions and the industry.  A recent mine disaster in West Virginia  that killed 29 miners  underscores the importance of this book which reviewers have described as “stunning,” “intriguing” and “fascinating”.

  • 2009 Winter Meeting Scottsdale, AZ: Gordon Campbell, Attorney, Parsons Behle & Latimer, Salt Lake City, Utah and author of Missing Witness Gordon Campbell on Authoring Missing Witness
  • A Thriller in Scottsdale, Online with the JFI, Vol. 1, No.2 (2009) read more
  • A Spellbinding Thriller by Christine Alexander, Online with the JFI, Vol. 1, No. 3 (2009)
  • 2009 Summer Meeting Santa Fe, New Mexico:  Hampton Sides reflected on his book, Blood and Thunder. In New Mexico, where I live, the Navajos are a powerful presence. They're the largest tribe in the United States, living on the largest reservation, a domain as big as all of New England. Yet very few Americans are aware of their tangled, bloody history with the U.S. government.  It's the story of what has come to be called Manifest Destiny, the self-righteous conviction that the United States had a divine right to control the continent from coast to coast.
  • Hampton Sides Rocks JFIOnline with the JFI, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2010) read more
  • 2008 Winter Meeting Williamsburg, VA: William M. Kelso, Jamestown, the Buried Truth. The speaker chronicles a historical treasure rediscovered in America’s backyard.
  • 2008 Summer Meeting Anchorage, Alaska:  Anthony Lewis, is a prominent liberal intellectual, writing for The New York Times op-ed page and The New York Review of Books, among other publications, he discusses his book, Freedom for the Thought We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment
  • A First Rate Talk on the First Amendment, Online with the JFI, Vol. 1, No. 1 Fall 2008 read more
  • 2007 Winter Meeting New Orleans, Louisiana:  Floyd Abrams reflected on his book Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment. Penguin Books 2000. The late Senator Moynihan described  Mr. Abrams as “The most significant First Amendment lawyer of our age.”
  • 2007 Summer Meeting Mackinac Island, MI:  In 1958, Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker using the pen name Robert Traver, wrote the best-seller Anatomy of a Murder, later made into a movie starring Jimmy Stewart.  The story explores criminal prosecution in a Michigan Upper Peninsula county, varying notions of right and wrong, witness coaching, an insanity defense, courtroom tactics, attorney/client relationships, the economics of small town law offices, as well as personal and professional integrity.
  • "An Anatomy of Anatomy of a Murder" by Frederick Baker, Jr. (PDF)
  • 2006 Winter Meeting Amelia Island, Florida:  Marsha Dean Phelts discussed her book An American Beach for African Americans, University of Florida Press, Gainesville, FL, a historical account of Amelia Island, one of the few beaches in America previously accessible to African Americans.
  • 2006 Summer Meeting Indianapolis, Indiana:  Renowned Lincoln scholar and collector Chief Justice Frank Williams of Rhode Island focused on features of Abraham Lincoln's early days using Lincoln's Youth: The Indiana Years, Seven to Twenty One, by Louis A. Warren.
  • 2005 Winter Meeting New York City, New York:  Kenneth R Feinberg, Special Master of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, presented material from his book, What is Life Worth? The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11 published 2006.
  • 2005 Summer Meeting Charleston, South Carolina:  Attorney and Historian Robert N. Rosen, Judge Alexander Sanders, Attorney Richard M. Gergel, and Judge Joseph F. Anderson, highlighted South Carolina's jurists who upheld the rule of law against the tide of popular opinion: Judge Matthew J. Perry (who also spoke), United States Associate Justice William Johnson, Judge John Belton O'Neal, Justice Jonathan Jasper Wright, and Judge J. Waites Waring.  Books featured were A Short History of Charleston by Robert N. Rosen, 2nd ed. and Matthew J. Perry: The Man, His Times and His Legacy by W. Lewis Burke and Belinda F. Gergel, 2004
  • 2004 Winter Meeting San Francisco, California: Warren Christopher, former US Secretary of State, presented material from his autobiography Chances of a Lifetime published in 2001 by Scribner. “Warren Christopher is the kind of public servant the Founders imagined--- a man of principle, integrity, loyalty and public spirit.” Michael Beschloss.
  • 2003 Summer Meeting San Juan, Puerto Rico: Anthony Lewis, Commentary on Gideon's Trumpet, spoke on the content and impact of his book Gideon's Trumpet, the true story of an impoverished man convicted of a crime he did not commit.  Lewis was optimistic about ongoing improvement in the availability and quality of legal counsel for the poor, and the need to persevere in that effort.