MistrialAn Inside Look at How the Criminal Justice System Works . . . and Sometimes Doesn’t
by Mark Geragos and Pat Harris
2013, Gotham Books
Hardcover, 274 pages, with index

Arrested by the Glendale Police Department and detained for eight months even as it became evident he had nothing to do with the 2005 murder he was suspected of, Edmond Ovasapyan’s case proves his attorneys’ contention that “Being a Prosecutor Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” (the subtitle of Chapter 6 of their book).

Mistrial authors Mark Geragos and Pat Harris were Ovasapyan’s attorneys, and their account of his case in Chapter 6 is frightening and true. The LA County District Attorney’s office wanted to proceed with trying Ovasapyan even after exculpatory evidence continued to surface. (The real murderer was just tried and convicted this year.)

The City of Glendale ultimately paid $1.7 million to settle Ovasapyan’s wrongful detention lawsuit, after losing in trial and on appeal. In the Glendale News-Press, City Attorney Scott Howard complained “the city was up against a case in which the district attorney’s office was immune from being held financially liable.”

Prosecutorial immunity is one of the problems with our justice system today, write Geragos and Harris. The story of Ovasapyan’s case could only be grim, but many of their other experiences with clients make very entertaining reading. Throughout the book, however, the questions they raise are dead serious.

This is a great book for those interested in how criminal cases are handled – the authors explain the different skills and approaches needed by prosecutors versus defense attorneys, as well as the attitudes of judges and juries. It’s a great book for people who like to read sensational but true stories about celebrities. It’s a critical look at how media and criminal justice professionals distort the truth for their own ends.

Finally, it’s a book that provides another perspective on how we deal with crime and criminals in the U.S. The Economist asked today, “Why does America have such a big prison population?”

Geragos and Harris were guest speakers at the Friends of the Glendale Public Library meeting in April 2013, and a packed audience heard them speak about why they decided to write Mistrial. They spoke as true professionals – realistic optimists determined to challenge a system they think should be better. Both were determined to be defense attorneys from a young age, and Geragos told the crowd about courtroom movies that inspired him – I ended up getting one of them, Gideon’s Trumpet (starring Henry Fonda) from Netflix, and recommend it myself. I also recommend reading Mistrial!

This book is the latest addition to Sunroom Desk’s virtual Glendale bookshelf, as it covers a high-profile Glendale criminal case and is co-authored by a local resident.