One Damned Lawyer

In the early years of the 20th century, there was only one damned lawyer that the damned themselves could turn to, and John A. Farrell tells his riveting story in .

Most of us know Clarence Darrow - the hero of the Monkey Trial. We've seen Inherit the Wind. Some of us know that he defended Leopold and Loeb, the killers of young Bobby Franks. A few of us remember his name in connection with the Haymarket Riots and his attempt to commute the death sentences of the convicted "anarchists."

Farrell treats the reader to all of these as well as a myriad of other cases, great and small, that made up Clarence Darrow's amazing career. He defended people like Ossian Sweet, in Detroit, a black man accused of murdering a white man - and got him off with an all white jury - and IWW leader Big Bill Haywood. Gamblers and hit men. Widows and orphans. Loose women and bad men. Darrow had a passion for free speech and free love and he would represent anyone threatened with the death penalty. He lost only one to the hangman.

If a state wishes that its citizens respect human life, then the state should stop killing. It can be done in no other way, and it will perhaps not be fully done that way. There are infinite reasons for killing. There are infinite circumstances under which there are more or less deaths. It never did depend and never can depend upon the severity of the punishment....

Farrell obviously admires his subject, but he doesn't cut corners or mince words. There were bumps - hillocks - minor mountain ranges of clay through which Clarence Darrow dragged his feet along the way, and more than a little of it stuck.

A critic from 1906 wrote )pp. 142-143):

I love Darrow because he is such a blessed crook. He affects to be a brave man, but admits that he's an arrant coward; he poses as an altruist, but is really a pin-headed pilferer. People think he is bounteously unselfish and kind, whereas he dispenses and supplicates solely for Darrow & Co. He eloquently addresses the bar, bench and jury in public in the name of justice, and then privately admits the whole thing is a fraud.

The important thing is that when he did his job, regardless of the client, he did it in the name of justice. And it was not uncommon that the client was someone in sore need of it. 100 years later, we have not seen his like again. This biography illustrates what we've been missing.