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Book Review: Justice Failed by Alton Logan with Berl Falbaum

I know from experience that attorney-client privilege plays a big role in a lawyer’s professional life. There’s plenty of times when a client or potential client wanted assurance that I couldn’t tell anyone else what they told me (with limited exceptions). The confidentiality of information is such an important ethical obligation that the American Bar Association calls it a “fundamental principle” of the relationship between attorney and client. But Alton Logan can tell you that the duty can cause problems. After all, when two lawyers adhered to their ethical obligation, Logan was incarcerated for 26 years for a murder he didn’t commit.

Logan tells his story in Justice Failed: How “Legal Ethics” Kept Me in Prison for 26 Years. And while Logan’s case epitomizes close to the worst dilemma attorney-client privilege might create, it is also a devastating commentary on ongoing problems in the criminal justice system. In a lengthy introduction, the journalist who collaborated with Logan on the book, Berl Falbaum, makes clear that he views the lawyers’ action show the law and the legal system are immoral. Yet the bulk of the book, written from Logan’s standpoint, is a fairly straightforward narrative of his life, one in which he appears much more understanding of what happened.

How Logan was ensnared by legal ethics is readily explained. He was arrested for the January 1982 murder of a security guard at a Chicago McDonald’s four blocks from his home. Age 28 at the time, Logan faced the death penalty. He was initially convicted in February 1983, the jury sparing him the death penalty by just two votes. Yet just a week after Logan’s arrest, Andrew Wilson, who actually shot the guard, was arrested for murdering two Chicago police officers. Less than six weeks after Logan’s arrest — and nearly a year before his trial — Wilson told his two public defenders that he’d killed the McDonald’s guard.

Wilson’s refusal to disclose that himself or to let his attorneys do so put the attorneys in a Catch-22. Not only could revealing this information mean Wilson likely would have another capital murder charge, it could be used as an aggravating circumstance for the death penalty in the killing of the two officers. On the other hand, the attorneys knew an innocent man not only was in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, he too faced the death penalty. Their solution? They prepared and signed an affidavit saying “privileged sources” informed them that Logan was “in fact not responsible” for the McDonald’s shooting.

Fortunately for Logan, they also obtained Wilson’s permission to disclose the information after Wilson’s death, which they did in 2008. Still, the affidavit sat in a locked strongbox under the bed of one of the lawyers for 26 years. And, interestingly, the lawyers disagreed on whether they would have revealed the information if Logan had been sentenced to death.

Yet Logan’s conviction also involves police and prosecutorial misconduct. The biggest example is when police found the two guns used to kill the police officers. That search, just six days after Logan’s arrest, the also turned up a sawed-off shotgun. Ballistics tests revealed the shotgun fired a cartridge shell found at the McDonald’s murder scene. The police did not investigate the connection between Wilson and the shotgun. Then, at Logan’s first trial, the state convinced the judge that the shotgun and shell shouldn’t be admitted into evidence. Although an appeals court ordered Logan retried because of that, prosecutors managed to keep out evidence that it was Wilson who’d possessed the gun. Without that context, the jury had no reason to doubt the claim that Logan was the killer.

Logan and Falbaum both contribute to telling Logan’s story. Falbaum’s introduction delves into attorney-client privilege overall, its effect on the case, the frequency of prosecutorial and police misconduct, and resulting wrongful convictions. Perhaps because of this division of labor he is much more critical of the confidentiality rule. For example, he points out that one exception to attorney-client privilege includes a dispute over legal fees. That means, he says, lawyers can “violate” confidentiality to collect a fee “but not when an innocent person is facing execution or serving a life sentence in prison.” (While another exception allows disclosure when necessary “to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm,” it didn’t apply. When the attorneys gained the information the guard’s death had already occurred and Logan’s death was not “reasonably certain” because no one knew if he would get the death penalty.)

Logan, in contrast, tells us the story of his life and his experience. In so doing, he comes off as far more reasonable about what happened than one might expect. Although at times guilty of a bit of repetition, Logan’s account is thoughtful and gives insight into what many criminal defendants, particularly those of color, experience. Yet this double barreled approach weakens the book.

While the authors may have felt an introduction to the issues was necessary, it creates a situation in which Falbum’s argument comes before readers are fully familiar with Logan’s story. Additionally, while Falbaum spoke with a large number of people, including multiple lengthy interviews with the attorneys, their thoughts and comments aren’t really weaved into Logan’s story. Instead, they are largely confined to the introduction and footnotes in Logan’s narrative. There is also a distinct difference in style. Logan writes in plain, everyday language in contrast to the analytical tone and content of Falbaum’s introduction. And Logan may leave you scratching your head at times. For example, he says that when police first came to his home after the McDonald’s murder he assured his mother he didn’t have anything to do with it. He then writes that he was at home with his mother and two other trial witnesses, the night of the killing. If they were together when the murder occurred, why would Logan need to tell his mother he wasn’t involved?

Ultimately, though, regardless of whether a different route would have improved the book, Justice Failed is an intriguing look at critical legal issues of which the general public is unaware.


A life sentence is just as bad as a death sentence. With a life sentence, it just takes longer for you to die.

Alton Logan, Justice Failed

Weekend Edition: 10-14

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage


Don’t you know that you are free
Well at least in your mind if you want to be

Sly and the Family Stone, Title cut, Stand

Weekend Edition: 10-7

Bulletin Board

  • About the only thing that makes winter bearable is back! The NHL season began Wednesday and tonight is the Stampede‘s home opener. Added bonus: watching hockey is exercise

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

  • These Are Not Acts of God (“Our politicians mourn, our media serves the familiar narratives, and we end the day in the same place where we started it, bewildered by reducible catastrophes but unwilling to do anything about it.”)
  • What Science Says About ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ (“Murphy’s central concern with offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ is not that doing so is ineffective at solving health issues, but rather that prayer is offered in place of actual policy solutions.”)
  • The Real Value of Money (“Materialism, by and large, is a psychological trap. No matter how much you own, how much you buy, how much you earn, the disease of more never goes away.”)

Blog Headlines of the Week (Las Vegas edition)

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage


One of course wonders why in the president’s view a black man protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the anthem is a ‘son of a bitch,’ while whites marching along Nazis and the Klan to protest the removal of a statue of a Confederate general is a, quote, ‘very fine person[.]'”

Jake Tapper, September 25

Book Review: Gratoony the Loony by Gilles Gratton

Sports are replete with stereotypes. Yet few are probably as old and ingrained as that ice hockey goaltenders are quirky weird crazy. Even Hall of Fame goaltender Bernie Parent said, “You don’t have to be crazy to be a goalie. But it helps!” And then there’s the goaltenders who embody the stereotype, such as Gilles Gratton, a goalie who earned the moniker “Gratoony the Loony” (to be distinguished from “loonie,” the $1 Canadian coin).

Even though Gratton only played in 47 NHL games in the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons, he achieved somewhat legendary status. His autobiography Gratoony the Loony: The Wild, Unpredictable Life of Gilles Gratton, co-written with Greg Oliver, shows how his quirks and actions created the image of the crazy goaltender. But it also tells the story of a French-Canadian boy growing up playing hockey and reaching the big stage while believing there was more to life than a hockey rink.

Gratton spent three seasons in the World Hockey Association, playing in its second All-Star Game, before moving to the NHL. He asserts that he didn’t want to play hockey, “it just seemed that destiny pushed me into it.” Similarly, he says his brother Norm, who would play 201 games with four NHL teams, would rather hunt than play outdoor hockey when they were growing up.

The introduction to Gratoony the Loony deals with an event near the end of his career that drew extensive attention. While goalies had fiberglass masks, they were not that far removed from the type made iconic in Friday the 13th. At a home game at Madison Square Garden on January 30, 1977, Gratton came on the ice wearing a mask painted as a snarling lion. (It’s probably apropos that he chose a lion because his astrological sign is Leo.) The mask was so striking that, according to Gratton, the referees and players on the ice came down to look at it. He believes the mask “has come to define me, because most of the rest of my career was just a series of fuck-ups.”

Gratton doesn’t limit his focus to the quirks and antics that he’s remembered for. Instead, Gratoony the Loony is more autobiographical than many sports memoirs. He writes of growing up with parents who were “emotionally absent,” allowing him to do whatever he wanted. He says he struggled with “despair over the meaninglessness of life.” He dropped out of high school after only three days. Before his last NHL season, Gratton no longer wanted to play hockey; he wanted to “meditate, go to ashrams, do my spiritual stuff and uncover life’s secrets.” In fact, after retiring at age 24, Gratton spent several years exploring Transcendental Meditation and yoga, in hopes of becoming “an enlightened being.” Ultimately, though, I think readers would have been better served by a deeper exploration of the effects of how he and his brother (who drank himself to death in 2010) were raised and a more abbreviated discussion of his life after retiring.

Make no mistake. This is a book about hockey. There’s plenty of narrative of Gratton’s years playing hockey, especially professional hockey. In fact, the book at times has the feel of a series of war stories. Perhaps because of that, brief, oral history-like accounts from a wide variety of people are interspersed throughout the book. To me, the inserts tended to break the flow of the book and a number didn’t seem that relevant to the subject at hand. But those interested in the Gratoony the Loony reputation also get what they came for. Among other things, Grattong tells of:

  • His mood and thinking being affected by his horoscope and why would you play a goalie who wasn’t in the right mood to perform?
  • While playing for Toronto’s WHA team, taking several laps around the practice rink wearing only his mask and skates, ending with a pirouette at center ice.
  • When interviewed at center ice in San Diego after being named first star of the game, Gratton told the crowd, “You have a nice city here. It’s too bad you don’t have a good hockey team.”
  • After getting hit in the ribs by a puck, telling the doctor the reason it hurt so much was because he was stabbed in the same place by a Spaniard in a prior life.

Plainly, Gratton reinforced the hockey goalie stereotype. He still may be doing so. Gratoony the Loony also tells of his post-hockey astral projection and that he’s currently living two distinct timelines. In the past, he’s lived as a 12th century sailor, a 14th century Indian “hobo,” a 17th century Spanish landowner, an 18th century Spanish priest and a 19th century British surgeon. All in all, to paraphrase Daniel Tosh, it’s not a stereotype if it’s true.


My old enemy had come back to haunt me, and I entered a state where winning and losing did not matter. Nothing seemed important to me

Gilles Gratton, Gratoony the Loony

Weekend Edition: 9-30 (plus one)

Bulletin Board

  • Weekend Edition is plus one day because this weekend I became plus one son-in-law (the first)

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

Blog Headline of the Week

  • The Psychology of Men Who Put Their Dicks in Tiny Objects
  • Bookish Linkage

    Nonbookish Linkage


    Life flies by in seconds
    You’re not a baby Gracie, you’re my friend
    You’ll be a lady soon but until then
    You gotta do what I say

    Ben Folds, “GracieSongs for Silverman

    Book Review: Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

    Thousands of pages and hours have been consumed debating the purposes of literature. Many, myself included, would agree with Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who says it “enable[s] us to explore and to understand more fully the common human abyss.” And foreign authors like Vargas Llosa enable Americans to see the extent to which elements of the human condition are shared regardless of geography or culture.

    Dirk Kurbjuweit’s novel Fear is a sterling example. It explores family disarray and moral codes. Despite the fact Kurbjuweit tells us most of the end of the story in the second chapter, there’s a sense of existential trepidation throughout.

    The book is narrated by Randolph Tiefenthaler, a 45-year-old Berlin architect. He, his wife and two children live in the ground floor of a late 19th century home with flats in the basement, second floor and attic. When they meet Dieter Tiberius, the man who leases the basement flat, things seem normal. Unfortunately, Tiberius later makes suggestive comments to Tiefenthaler’s wife, Rebecca, and writes her love letters. His bizarre actions escalate. Soon he is writing notes and letters accusing the couple of abusing and molesting their children. (The plot is based upon Kurbjuweit’s own experiences more than a decade ago.)

    When Tiefenthaler goes to the police and lawyers trying to stop Tiberius, he finds there is nothing to be done since Tiberius hasn’t committed a crime. Tiefenthaler even offers to buy the basement flat from its owner, an offer that is rejected. Not only is Tiefenthaler frustrated, he fears someone may believe the allegations. Combined with the thought that he is failing to protect his family, Tiefenthaler’s self-loathing grows.

    Tiefenthaler’s thoughts make clear he suffers an inordinate amount of angst. It’s apparent that much of it is tied up in the rocky relationship he had with his father growing up. Tiefenthaler’s father is infatuated with pistols; he has around 30 guns in their home. Each Saturday, his father would drive them to a shooting range for the two of them to shoot at targets. Tiefenthaler, though, had a strong aversion to his father’s passion and just before his 10th birthday refuses to go to the practice range any more. His younger sister eventually takes his place and the father-son relationship never improves.

    Tiefenthaler can’t put his finger on the fear underlying his dislike of shooting with this father, just as he has a hard time understanding his dread in general. His relationship with Rebecca becomes strained, even to the point where Tiefenthaler begins to wonder if maybe Tiberius is telling the truth. “‘I trust you not to abuse our children’ is something you should have have to say,” he thinks one night as they sit in their living room.

    Kurbjuweit’s pacing as Tiefenthaler’s turmoil increases not only heightens the sense of pressure but helps the reader grasp it. And while the reader knows how the story ends, the devil is in the details. Kurbjuweit, deputy editor of Der Spiegel, has won several awards for his reporting and is the author of several nonfiction works and novels. Translated by Imogen Taylor, Fear is his first book to be translated into English. It is an auspicious beginning.


    The upwardly mobile are particularly afraid. We are afraid of losing what we have attained, because it is not secure, neither morally nor financially.

    Dirk Kurbjuweit, Fear