On his blog, Life Matters, on December 22, international writer/photographer Navjot Singh reviewed Gideon’s Children (http://www.navjot-singh.com/navjots-blog/book-review-gideons-children-by-howard-g-franklin):
Based on the life experiences of author and attorney Howard G. Franklin, Gideon’s Children gets its name from the landmark Supreme Court decision on March 18, 1963 that guaranteed every criminal defendant in a felony trial the right to a lawyer. Now over 50 years since that Gideon v. Wainwright decision, Franklin’s book puts into perspective the challenges confronted by he and a group of lawyers defending the poor, mostly African-American defendants in southern California in 1968.
Having reading this book, I can only imagine what it must have been like as a public defender in 1960s America. In excruciating detail, Franklin provides a vivid insight, which at times is very entertaining and graphic, of a young, idealistic attorney who went to work in a public defender’s office in Los Angeles in the late 1960s.
I find it particularly fascinating how Franklin does an exceptional job introducing the readers to historical events, landmark cases, and his personal experience throughout this remarkable read. It is very easy for society to brush away history or to take things for granted without knowing about how the events in history have got humanity and society to where we are now, and Franklin does an outstanding job in making sure that generations of readers will get to know what actually happened.
Although the book is fiction, the situations are very real. It brings into frame the challenges faced by attorneys in those early days, especially after Gideon’s decision, and how the U.S. legal system has been somewhat unfair to many, particularly minorities.
The part that should be read with even more great interest than any other part of the book is in Chapter Five; where the action is taking place in 1968, and there is a determined public defender about to try his first jury trial. His client is African-American, and from an area where the majority of the population of the judicial district population is mostly black. When the jury panel of 200, from which 12 will be picked, is led into the courtroom, all 200 are white.
In this book, readers will be reminded of the virtuous qualities of Atticus Finch when learning about the public defenders in our justice system. For anyone interested in the U.S. justice system, this would be a pivotal and a sensible choice as a read to pick up. It would be perfect for lawyers who really want to understand about parts of the U.S. legal system. President Obama recently said, “That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past — how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world.”
Gideon’s Children is a book worthy of your time, whether for those cosy winter evenings at home or a perfect read in the quieter moments to ponder over life. It becomes quite clear in the book that the author’s generation has endured so much in times which we should not forget but rather learn from and make sure that such bad times don’t happen again.
Writing in Ms. JD on June 24, Ani Torossian reviewed Gideon’s Children:
I recently had the pleasure of reading Howard G. Franklin’s recent debut of Gideon’s Children, a work that highlights young lawyers’ journeys as public defenders in 1960’s Los Angeles. Set against the backdrop of the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, it offers a lens that exposes the difficulties, prejudices and unfamiliar terrains these attorneys had to forge through in order to uphold the law – not simply because it was the law but because it established a moral compass by which to give voice to the voiceless and representation to those who needed it most. Each case was a battle with words as sharp as swords, and turning the pages to learn more about the mindset of these public defenders was a worthwhile endeavor on several fronts.
There are passages in the book that prove beneficial starting points for pre-law students who are curious to know what law outside of law school textbooks is like. These passages offer book gems to those interested in trial strategies and what it means to cross-examine witnesses and attend one’s first jury trial – both the emotional and psychological toil it takes on all participants and the chess-game of logic and argumentation it offers. It’s one thing to watch episodes of TV shows that deal with such notions. And it’s a completely different thing to experience the power of words detached from visual cues and instead presented through the written word. It makes you appreciate the firing squad that is the lawyer’s domain. And the protagonist’s pipe – making its presence at crucial junctions throughout the book – adds solid imagery and complements well with the ‘judicial jungle’ the public defenders find themselves in.
The book is filled with descriptions of moods and musings that flow poetically and leave the reader in a dynamic environment: The writer triumphs in managing to complement the grounded, all-too-real dialogue and exchanges between characters with a touch of imaginative language that blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction. The addition of commentary about historical facts provides an additional trajectory with which the reader is able to grasp a snippet of what it was like to live and work in the midst of riots and violence – a parallel we can easily draw to today’s upheavals and social discontent. It’s good to see what motivated these defenders of the public and of the law decades ago, as some of the driving factors for those interested in this career path still ring true today.
The feeling that I was left with when reading Gideon’s Children can be summed up with lines from Tennyson’s Ulysses:
We are not now that strength which in old days
Move earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.
Hopeful that there are pre-law students who have that strong-will and yearning to search as aptly conveyed by the protagonist in Gideon’s Children. Aware that, like the protagonist, searching for one’s place in law is a process that requires evolution and one that does not end with a conferral of a JD.
On April 28, 2015, Gemma Whelan, Portland theater director and author of the acclaimed novel Fiona, called G.C. a lively and satisfying roller-coaster of a novel, writing:
Howard Franklin’s thick and satisfying novel takes us on a roller-coaster ride with the protagonist Matt Harris as he battles the prejudice of the judicial system in Los Angeles in the waning years of the 1960’s.
The novel captures the political turmoil of the period, and weaves in cultural milestones in music, sports, and current events. It carries us along on a wave of passion, determination and skill, as Matt becomes part of a team of Public Defenders battling the Judges and DAs who stack the decks against their largely African-American clients. This is our protagonist’s stab at contributing to the Civil Right movement, and it’s a laudable effort.
Running parallel to Matt’s war on prejudice, is a sad and sweet love story. This is a central part of the maturation journey as the shy protagonist comes of age, having broken away from the stultifying grip of the family business. The novel is packed full of rich language, and Matt when alone carries on intense conversations with himself, often debating the pros and cons of a situation, and weighing up the ideas as he battles with his own personal demons just as he would in a courtroom, “Gideon’s Children” has a modern ring in light of the tragedy of Ferguson, and all the recent instances of blatant prejudice and outright criminal behavior by law enforcement officers and others against African American men in the U.S. It is a gripping story of a brilliant young lawyer starting out in his profession, who with his smarts, dedication, hard work, and intense sense of justice and fairness faces off against the forces of corruption in society.
Tuesday, March 3.
Writing today in Lady (Legal) Writer, Megan E. Boyd reviewed Gideon’s Children:
Howard G. Franklin’s first novel, Gideon’s Children, tells the story of Matt Harris, a young attorney assigned to a small public defender’s office in the late 1960s. From day one, Matt—who’s never even tried a case before—finds himself immersed in an all-out war, fighting with his co-workers for their clients’ rights while struggling to handle a staggering case load.
Matt quickly learns what his poor, mostly minority clients are up against: all-white juries, unethical judges, biased prosecutors, and corrupt police officers. In short, they don’t stand a chance. Or they wouldn’t without Matt, whose deep-rooted sense of right and wrong leads him to do everything in his power to ensure his clients get fair trials, even risking his own freedom to do what he believes is right.
Then, Matt and his fellow PDs hatch a risky plan to gain respect for themselves and, more importantly, fair shakes their clients. Will their plan work? Are they risking their careers? And can they get at least some form of justice for their clients in a world that seems anything but?
Gideon’s Children is fiction but clearly parallels Franklin’s own experiences as a Deputy Public Defender in Los Angeles County in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Franklin brings to life a period that many have argued was the most tumultuous in American history—he sings the songs of the time, watches the television programs of the time, and voices the concerns of many Americans of the time. He tackles race, class, and socioeconomic issues that persist today, nearly 50 years later. And Gideon’s Children reminds us of the continued struggles of public defenders, who are forced to juggle too many cases with too few resources, and their clients, who, too often, still face justice systems that seem stacked against them.
Gideon’s Children is available today through Chamberlain Press.
Want to know what really goes on down there where Justice is rightly portrayed as blind? Read this book. Fifty years after the Supreme Court upheld the right of every felony defendant to counsel, people charged with crime are often given only token representation as they are hustled through an assembly line process from arrest to guilty plea to incarceration. Against this tide of injustice are public defenders with courage, wisdom and skill. Their case loads are too heavy, their resources often slim. Judges may treat their efforts at principled and zealous representation as obstructing the “orderly” process of processing cases in crowded courtrooms. This process takes place in courtrooms that most people never visit. So along comes Howard G. Franklin, to show us what is going on. His protagonist is a principled and articulate defender in a California town. Here are the prosecutors, judges, clients and cops. You won’t get this kind of a picture on television or in the movies. Howard Franklin has been there.
– Michael E. Tigar, renowned litigator and legal scholar, with seven appearances
before the U.S. Supreme Court, professor emeritus at both the Washington
College of Law and Duke University School of Law, and author or editor of
more than a dozen books, including Thinking About Terrorism: The Threat
to Civil Liberties in Times of National Emergency and Fighting Injustice.