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Guest Review: Mary-Ellen Walter (the Sister Judd)

Perhaps I am too harsh a critic because I am a career prosecutor in the fifth largest city in the country. Maybe I am too harsh a critic because I have so little free time that I want to read a book that I canÕt put down. Maybe itÕs because, tell the truth, I found The Prosecutors by Gary Delsohn a long, slow read.

Delsohn goes into painstaking detail about the daily grind that is the life of a prosecutor. Had I read this book before law school, I might have chosen a different career. The truth of the matter is that, despite the tedium, a prosecutorÕs day is broken up by shining, funny examples of humanity. Like the time in arraignment court when we were processing a string of prostitutes after a vice sweep and played our own version of "The Price is Right." Or all of the times during jury selection when people raise their hand in response to the question, "Have you ever been the victim of a crime?" When questioned further, you realize that they were arrested and charged with a crime, but they think that means they were a victim. Or the morning after our summer party when we all gathered around to see one of our colleagues asleep under his desk, covered by his coat.

ItÕs not just the lack of humor that bothered me, it was the cop bashing. There are repeated references to how lazy and sloppy the cops are. To read the book, itÕs a wonder any crimes in Sacramento are solved. Yes, there are police officers who are not the prosecutorÕs ideal, but for every bad one, there are ten or more good ones; officers and detectives who are as dedicated to the cause as the prosecutors. I guess the Sacramento DAÕs office has never come across a good police officer.

The penultimate insult, however, is the last line of the book, uttered by the second-in-command of the DAÕs office. "ItÕs always been just a job to me." What sets most prosecutors apart is the fire in their belly, the belief that itÕs not just a job, but a calling. When someone asks if IÕm a lawyer, I always tell them, "No, IÕm a prosecutor." There is a difference between the two, but one that Delsohn never comes close to capturing. He's more or less covered what prosecutors do, but not why they do it. It's all prose, no poetry.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Gary Delsohn Links:

    -AWARD: Gary Delsohn: Carmichael, CA, Sacramento Bee reporter: "A Year Inside an Urban District Attorney's Office" (Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowships)
    -ESSAY: Convicting the Wrong Man (Gary Delsohn, Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship)
    -ESSAY: Rolling back three strikes: In California, even some tough-on-crime politicians are beginning to fight a law that sends people to jail for life for petty theft. (Gary Delsohn and Sam Stanton, May 09, 2000, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Indictments issued in Sacramento synagogue arsons: Two months after one of the suspects admitted to the crimes, the Justice Department finally acts in a high-profile hate case. (Sam Stanton and Gary Delsohn, March 18, 2000, Salon)
    -ESSAY: What the National Guard is doing for New Year's Eve: If the world doesn't end at the turn of the millennium, the FBI warns that militia groups and religious nuts might try to help it along. (Sam Stanton and Gary Delsohn, December 10, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: "I'm guilty of obeying the laws of the creator": A white supremacist admits he killed a gay couple, but claims the Bible made him do it. (Gary Delsohn and Sam Stanton, November 08, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Poster boys for the summer of hate: Meet Matthew and Tyler Williams, suspects in a series of Northern California hate crimes, now on trial for murder (Sam Stanton and Gary Delsohn, October 06, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Mondavi at Large (Gary Delsohn, March 1998, Robb Report)
    -REVIEW: of The Prosecutors (William Endicott, Sacramento Bee)
    -REVIEW: of The Prosecutors (Steve Galpern, Rocky Mountain News)
    -REVIEW: of The Prosecutors (Seth Stern, FindLaw)
    -REVIEW: of The Prosecutors (David V. Wilson II, The Houston Lawyer)
    -REVIEW: of The Prosecutors: A Year in the Life of a District Attorney's Office By Gary Delsohn (Steve Weinberg, SF Chronicle)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Sacramento County DA's office