Jake Lassiter Never Intended to be a Hero…Mission Accomplished

jake lassiter muses about the courtroommage

Excerpt from “FOOL ME TWICE,” available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook. A Kindle Unlimited title.

The setup: Before Jake Lassiter is accused of murder, the world weary lawyer is plying his trade in court, defending a con man named Blinky Baroso. We go inside his head:

My name is Jake Lassiter.

I am broad-shouldered and sandy-haired, and my neck is always threatening to pop the top button on my shirt. I have a crooked nose – thanks to a forearm through my facemask – and I look more like a longshoreman than a lawyer.

I am not invited by Ivy League institutions to lecture on the rules of evidence or the fine art of oral advocacy. Downtown lawyers do not flock to the courthouse to see my closing arguments. I was one of the few lawyers in the country not solicited by the television networks to comment on the O. J. Simpson case, even though I am the only one to have missed tackling him—resulting in a touchdown—on a snowy day in Buffalo about a million years ago.

I don’t know the secrets of winning cases, other than playing golf with the judges and contributing cash to their re-election campaigns. I don’t know what goes through jurors’ minds, even when I sidle up to their locked door and listen to the babble through the keyhole.

In short, I am not the world’s greatest trial lawyer. Or even the best in the Miami office building where I hang my shingle, or would, if I knew what a shingle was. I graduated in the top quarter of the bottom third of my law school class…night division. My diploma is fastened by duct tape to the bathroom wall at home. It covers a crack in the plaster above the toilet and forces me to contemplate the sorry state of the justice system a few times each day.

Jake Lassiter in Fool Me Twice
To clear his name in a murder case, Jake Lassiter follows a trail of evidence from Miami to buried treasure in an abandoned silver mine in Aspen, CO.

I went to law school after a few undistinguished years as a bench warming linebacker, earning slightly more than league minimum with the Miami Dolphins. In my first career, including my days as a semi-scholar athlete at Penn State, I had two knee operations, three shoulder separations, a broken nose and ankle, and turf toe so bad my foot was the size and color of an eggplant.

In my second career, I’ve been ridiculed by Armani-suited lawyers, jailed for contempt by ornery judges, and occasionally paid for services rendered.

I never intended to be a hero, and I succeeded.

Jake Lassiter's new adventure
Jake Lassiter tackles the college admissions scandal. (Publication Date: April 20, 2020)

On this humid June morning, I sat at the defense table, gathering my thoughts, then disposing of most of them, while my client continued to whisper unsolicited and irrelevant advice. Meanwhile, I stared at the sign above the judge’s bench: WE WHO LABOR HERE SEEK ONLY THE TRUTH.

Sure, sure, and the check’s in the mail.

Philosophers and poets may be truth seekers. Lawyers only want to win.

I have my own personal code, and you won’t find it in any books. I won’t lie to the judge, bribe a cop, or steal from a client. Other than that, it’s pretty much anything goes. Still, I draw the line on whose colors I’ll wear. I won’t represent child molesters. Yeah, I know, everybody’s entitled to a defense, and the lawyer isn’t there to assert the client’s innocence, just to force the state to meet its burden of proof. Cross-examine, put on your case, and let the chips fall where they may.

Bull!

When I defend someone, I walk in that person’s moccasins, or tasseled loafers, as the case may be. I am not just a hired gun. I lose a piece of myself and take on a piece of the client. That doesn’t mean I represent only innocent defendants. If I did, I would starve.
My first job after law school was in the Public Defender’s office, and my first customers, as I liked to call them, were folks too poor to hire lawyers with a little gray in their hair. I quickly learned that my clients’ poverty didn’t make them noble. I also got an education from my repeat customers, most of whom knew more criminal law than I did. Nearly all were guilty of something, though the state couldn’t necessarily prove it.

Jake Lassiter is a brew and burger guy in a pate and Chardonnay world.

Then I moved up – from the gutter to the curb – and these days, I represent a higher grade of dirtbag. My clients don’t pistol-whip liquor store clerks for a hundred bucks in the till. But they might sell paintings by a clever art student as undiscovered works of Salvador Dali, or ship vials of yogurt as prize bull semen, or hawk land on Machu Picchu as vacation property. All of which Blinky Baroso did, at one time or another. Sometimes twice.

“FOOL ME TWICE” is available in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, and ebook. The Lassiter books are stand-alones that may be enjoyed in any order. They are all Kindle Unlimited titles.

Jake Lassiter: More Wit, Less Wisdom

By Paul Levine

Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer of 13 novels, is known for his wry wit and a propensity for being held in contempt. I’ve just finished the first book in a series featuring Lassiter and Dr. Melissa Gold, his fiancée and physician, and I’ve discovered something odd. I’ve caught myself repeating dialogue from earlier Lassiter legal thrillers. I don’t know why. Just like Jake, I deny having “drain bamage.”

In a prior blog, “Jake Lassiter: Wry Wit and Cynical Wisdom,” I mentioned some favorite lines selected by readers on Goodreads. Here are others I’ll try to avoid repeating.

One of Lassiter’s best-known lines comes from TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, first of the series. There’s a sign that hangs above the bench in Miami courtrooms. “We who labor here seek only the truth.”

Lassiter says there should be a footnote: “Subject to the truth being ignored by lying witnesses, obfuscated by sleazy lawyers, excluded by inept judges, and overlooked by sleeping jurors.”

How about this for a lawyer’s confession? “I lose a lot. Or plead my client guilty. It’s a dirty little secret, but that’s the deal with criminal defense lawyers, even the big names. If anyone knew our real winning percentages, they’d jump bail and flee to Argentina.”BUM DEAL

Then, there’s this pithy assessment of defending criminal cases in Miami: “Buckle your chin strap. Law is a contact sport.” LASSITER

Regrets? He’s had a few. Lassiter was a backup Miami Dolphins linebacker before going to night school and becoming a street lawyer. In his younger days, he had a bad habit of choosing inappropriate women. In FLESH & BONES, he laments: “I wish I’d been faster then, smarter now. I wish I could paint a picture or build a bridge. I wish there was one woman – just one – who had lasted. A best friend and only lover. A soulmate, not a cellmate.”

Jake Lassiter has a long history of feuding with judges. He’s been held in contempt numerous times, but as his pal Steve Solomon says, “A lawyer who’s afraid of jail is like a surgeon who’s afraid of blood.” Here’s an exchange between an exasperated judge and the obstreperous Lassiter:

“Keep it up, Mr. Lassiter, and I’ll send you to a place you’ve never been.”

“Already been to jail, Your Honor.”

“Not talking about jail! I’m gonna send you to law school.” – MORTAL SIN

Then there’s this realistic appraisal of the practice of law: “A good lawyer is part con man, part priest, promising riches if you pay the fee, damnation of you don’t.” – STATE vs. LASSITER

Coming soon: A blog with the best of Solomon’s Laws from the SOLOMON vs. LORD series: “When a woman is quiet and reflective, rather than combative and quarrelsome, watch out. She’s likely picturing the bathroom without your boxers hanging on the shower head.”KILL ALL THE LAWYERS.

Newsletter: Finally, for advance word when the first Jake Lassiter/Melissa Gold novel comes out, please sign up for my annual Newsletter. More wit and less wisdom from the lawyer who believes that “no case is impossible if your cause is just.”

Jake Lassiter Series: Author Grills Hero Over “Bum Luck”

lassiter in kindle store

By Paul Levine

With “Bum Deal” debuting June 12 in the Jake Lassiter series, let’s look back at my grilling of linebacker-turned-lawyer last year just as “Bum Luck” was launched. The novel opens ominously: “Thirty seconds after the jury announced its verdict, I decided to kill my client.” Author and Hero trade punches – literally – about what it all means, and if you missed it, “Bum Luck” is on sale this month at the ridiculous price of $1.99 for the ebook. Available also in audio and trade paperback.

Paul: I see you’re in trouble again, Jake.

Jake: Don’t blame me. I only follow orders from you, scribbler.

Paul: That’s a cop-out, tough guy. You’ve got a mind – and a mouth – of your own.

Jake: News flash. I’m fictional. I don’t have free will.

Paul: Really? Did I tell you to try and kill Thunder Thurston, your own client?

Jake: I don’t remember. My brain’s a little fuzzy.

Paul: No wonder. How many concussions have you had?

Jake: Sure, blame the victim. You’re the one who made me run full speed into a goal post, splitting my helmet in two.

Paul: But I warned you not to get into the boxing ring with the Sugar Ray Pincher. Another concussion, and next day, you’re standing on a 20th floor balcony, threatening to push Thurston over the railing.

Paul Levine author of the Jake Lassiter series
Author of the Jake Lassiter series

Jake: Thurston killed his wife. He deserved to die.

Paul: The jury said NOT guilty. After YOU argued his case.

Jake: I’m ashamed.

Paul: Whatever happened to, “Jake Lassiter. Last bastion between freedom and forty years in a steel cage. The guy you call when you’re guilty as hell.”

Jake: Your words, pencil pusher. Not mine.

Paul: Didn’t you used to say, “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim?”

Jake: I’m drowning here. Can’t you see that? Because of me, a murderer went free.

Paul: Snap out of it, Jake! You were just doing your job.

Jake: YOUR job, shyster. You sent me to night law school. You made me take the Bar Exam four times. You pushed me into criminal law. I could have coached high school football in a pleasant little burg in Vermont, but no, you made me a trial lawyer.

Paul: I’ve never known you to be such a whiner.

Jake: (groans) What have you done to me? Splitting headaches. Memory loss. Confusion. Solomon and Lord think I have brain damage.

Paul: I never told you to use your helmet as a battering ram.

Jake: Once you made me a linebacker, what did you think would happen?

Jake Lassiter series
“Thirty seconds after the jury announced its verdict, I decided to kill my client.” – Jake Lassiter

Paul: (apologetically) Truth be told, Jake, I didn’t think about the future. No one knew about chronic traumatic encephalopathy back in the day.

Jake: You gave me a concussion in the game against the Jets where I made the tackle on the kickoff, recovered the fumble, and stumbled to the wrong end zone.

Paul: Sorry about that…and the fact it cost the Dolphins the game.

Jake: All these years later, the judges still call me “Wrong Way Lassiter.” Sorry doesn’t cut it, pal.

Good News for the Hero of the Jake Lassiter Series?

Paul: (brightens) There’s some good news, Jake. Dr. Melissa Gold, a neuropathologist at UCLA, is making progress with athletes suffering from C.T.E. She’s also very attractive.

Jake: So?

Paul: You’re going to meet her about halfway through “Bum Luck.”

Jake: I know that. I must have forgotten. Do she and I…you know?

Paul: No spoilers, sport.

Jake: I’m hoping she’s a keeper. It’s about time you gave me a soulmate instead of a cellmate.

Paul: Not my fault you choose women who break up with you by jumping bail and fleeing town.

Jake: C’mon, old buddy. Can’t you tell me if I kill Thunder Thurston? And if I do, whether I get away with it? And if I live or die?

Paul: The answers, old buddy, can be found in “Bum Luck,” the latest in the so-called Jake Lassiter series. Just shell out a few bucks and you’ll know.

Jake: I oughta break all your fingers so you can never type another word.

Jake Lassiter series ends
The final entry in the Jake Lassiter series debuts June 12, 2018

Paul: Don’t even think about it. Hey, what are you doing? Ouch! Let go of me. Stop before I zexxpiejnvfpreidssridkmswsk…….

(This “interview” originally appeared in “Mystery Scene” magazine in 2017. “Bum Luck” is available in trade paperback, ebook, and audio formats. For more information about the Jake Lassiter series and more, visit Paul’s Amazon Author Page).

Jake Lassiter: Wry Wit and Cynical Wisdom

By Paul Levine

UPDATE: There are two NEW books in the Jake Lassiter Series. In BUM DEAL, while fighting brain damage, Lassiter switches teams and prosecutes a surgeon accused of killing his wife. Only problem: no evidence, no witnesses, and no body. New in 2020, CHEATER’S GAME, in which Lassiter tackles the true-to-life college admissions scandal.

Cheater's Game
Jake Lassiter tackles the college admissions scandal in “Cheater’s Game” (2020)

My first Jake Lassiter novel, TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, was steeped in Miami lore, which is to say it dripped with heat, humidity…and murder. I dedicated the book to “the city of Miami, where vultures endlessly circle the courthouse, some on wings, and some in Porsches.”

This irritated many of my Porsche-driving lawyer pals, though they didn’t dispute the metaphorical accuracy of the comparison. Jake Lassiter often sees his brethren as sharks, vultures, or other predators. In a fourteen novels, including two featuring Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, BUM RAP (2015) and BUM LUCK (2017), the linebacker-turned-lawyer cracks wise and busts heads as he seeks “justice or a reasonable facsimile thereof.”

Confession: I borrowed that line from Lee Child, author of the “Jack Reacher” novels, who describes my hero this way: “Moving fast, cracking wise, butting heads, Jake Lassiter is the lawyer we all want on our side – and on the page.”

Readers often post their favorite quotes from the Jake Lassiter novels on GOODREADS. Here are a few, which I happen to like, too.

I’m a brew and burger guy in a pâté and Chardonnay world. I’m as health conscious as the next guy, as long as the next guy is sitting on a bar stool.FALSE DAWN

Jake Lassiter drinks here
Jake Lassiter, a brew and burger guy, drinks here.

Another reader favorite from GOODREADS finds Jake Lassiter at his self-deprecating best.

“I’ve been ridiculed by silk-suited lawyers, jailed by ornery judges, and occasionally paid for services rendered. I never intended to be a hero, and I succeeded.”STATE vs. LASSITER

A wily veteran of the courtroom, Lassiter observes with a critical eye and pronounces judgment with a wry tone:

“Justice requires lawyers who are prepared, witnesses who tell the truth, judges who know the law, and jurors who stay awake.FLESH & BONES

“I stood there, 230 pounds of ex-football player, ex-public defender, ex-a-lot-of-things, leaning agains the faded walnut rail of the witness stand, home to a million sweaty palms.”TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD

Jake Lassiter skyline Miami
Jake Lassiter knows Miami, inside and outside the courtroom.

“Honest people don’t need to put their hand on a Bible to tell the truth, and dishonest people could swear on their mothers’ lives and still lie.” – BUM RAP

“That’s called extortion, Mr. Lassiter.”
“Actually, it’s called lawyering.”
– BUM LUCK

Jake Lassiter in court
Jake Lassiter draws a fine distinction between “extortion” and “lawyering.”

For more of Lassiter’s wit and wisdom, please visit my Amazon Author Page.

Paul Levine

Mystery Writers Lust After Hollywood

worst book reviews

I came to Hollywood for the health insurance.

That’s right. I lusted after cheap meds, not fame and fortune, when I migrated from Miami to Hollywood 17 years ago. And why not? A doctor’s visit costs ten bucks at the industry-subsidized Bob Hope Health Center. I quickly learned, however, that writers pay their dues in many other ways. Even mystery writers.

Before I traveled west, I thought Hollywood writers rolled into work around 11 a.m., scribbled for a couple hours, drank their lunch at Musso and Frank’s, then cracked wise with starlets the rest of the day. Like Bogart, who came to Casablanca for the waters, I was misinformed.

mystery writers strike
Mystery writers don’t go on strike. Unionized television writers do. (With Larry Moskowitz and Randy Anderson, bringing Disney to its knees).

I quickly learned that television scribes are skilled craftsmen who work damn hard, sometimes all night while cameras roll. The writing itself is tougher than it looks. One-hour dramas employ the same three-act structure as plays and novels. Yes, it’s still the dramatic form advocated by Aristotle. Act one is exposition; act two is complication; and act three is resolution.

HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER: “Aristotle said that? Get me his agent.”

An overriding factor in television writing is the restraint of time. Want to craft a one-hour drama? After commercials, you’ve got 43 minutes to tell your tale. Stream-of-consciousness writers need not apply. Mystery writers who are strong on structure fare better.

I came west in 1999, sneaking into TV at such an advanced age that the Christian Science Monitor dubbed me the “oldest rookie writer in Hollywood.” I had already been a newspaper reporter, a trial lawyer, and a novelist, so I have a track record of either taking on new challenges or being unable to hold a job, depending on your point of view.

mystery writers jag credit
Unlike mystery writers working on novels, television scribblers get immediate gratification (or sorrow). It’s just weeks from script to air.

I began doubting the sanity of this latest move my first day on the Paramount Pictures lot. My dungeon of an office in the Clara Bow Building overlooked a dumpster behind the commissary, and my window air conditioner whined like an F-14 taking off from an aircraft carrier.

Mystery Writers Are Their Own Bosses. TV Writers Not So Much.

Years earlier, as a lawyer, I enjoyed a view of Bimini from the penthouse of a high rise on Miami’s Biscayne Bay and lunched on stone crabs and passion fruit iced tea at the Bankers’ Club. Later, as my own boss, I wrote eight novels at home in Coconut Grove, parrots squawking in a bottlebrush tree outside. Now, with kamikaze horseflies from the dumpster smashing into my window, I was low man on a staff of six writers. As well I should have been. When I got to Hollywood, I didn’t know a smash cut from a cold cut. How did I get here, anyway?

I’d been bitten by the Hollywood bug in 1995 when the late Stephen J. Cannell produced an NBC movie-of-the-week that was adapted from my first novel. I began dabbling in Hollywood long-distance. I wrote an action-adventure feature for Cannell’s company. Think Die Hard in a missile silo. I wrote the first draft of The A-Team feature screenplay that likewise went nowhere. I penned a computer hacker pilot for ABC. Five similar pilots were commissioned by the networks that season; none got on the air. I wrote a miniseries for CBS, which also was never produced. I was beginning to learn of a world where writers were unionized and got paid even though their work was shelved — literally — stacked on shelves with hundreds of other dusty scripts.

I also free-lanced two episodes of JAG, the CBS military drama. When they aired, I had the novel sensation of listening to actors read my words aloud.

Mystery Writers Wondered if I’d Sold Out.

Then Don Bellisario, the creator of JAG, offered me a staff position. I considered the alternatives. Stay in Miami with the mosquitoes and no book deal. Or go to L.A. and get a paycheck plus that free health insurance. Goodbye mosquitoes. Hello coyotes. (The four-legged scavengers, not Hollywood agents.) My friends among the mystery writers watched from afar with alarm. Had I sold out? Would I be eaten alive?

mystery writers on deck
Mystery writers seldom land on the flight deck of aircraft carriers. “JAG” writers did.

I ended up writing 20 episodes of JAG and also co-created with Bellisario First Monday, a drama set at the Supreme Court. The show, which was based loosely on my novel 9 Scorpions , this year was named one of the “ten great Supreme Court novels” by the American Bar Association Journal. It is now available as an ebook, retitled Impact. First Monday gave me the opportunity to work with James Garner, Joe Mantegna, and Charles Durning, three terrific actors. In fact, the entire cast was fine. But we, the producers and writers, failed when we tried to jazz up the stories.

James Garner, Chief Justice mystery writers
Chief Justice James Garner and our fictional Supreme Court.

In reality, most of the drama at the Supreme Court takes place in the Justices’ minds and is difficult to dramatize. Still, we might have been a hit, if not for our dead-on-arrival demographics: most of our viewers were between Medicare and the mortuary. After 13 episodes, we were buried in the slag heap of cancelled shows.

So was the Hollywood experience all bad? As the junior officers frequently said to the admiral on JAG: “Permission to speak freely, Sir?”

Actually, there were many satisfying moments. While TV writers remain anonymous outside the industry, an actor’s compliment on a script or several warm and fuzzy e-mails from viewers mean that someone has noticed your work. The very speed of the process — weeks, not years — from page to screen, makes the medium more intense and immediate than publishing. Then there’s the knowledge that 15 to 20 million people are paying various degrees of attention to a story you created out of a thin air. (Moments later, of course, your story vanishes into thin air).

mystery writers credits
Television credits fade into thin air in just seconds. So do many shows.

Something else, too, something I never anticipated. Writing for TV sharpened my prose skills. I believe my writing is leaner, my plotting tighter, my dialogue zippier. And let’s not forget those regular paychecks plus pension and health benefits.

I have returned to the excruciating yet exhilarating task of storytelling with only the written word. Since Hollywood learned it could exist without my services, I’ve published four courtroom capers in the Solomon vs. Lord series. One of the books, The Deep Blue Alibi, was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award. I’ve written three more novels in the Jake Lassiter series. Last year, I brought Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord together with Jake Lassiter in Bum Rap, which was briefly the number one bestseller in the Amazon Kindle store. In June 2017, Bum Luck, the second in that new series, will be published by Thomas & Mercer.

There’s even renewed interest in Hollywood in Lassiter as a television series. No, I’m not interested in writing the show. I’ve got my health insurance — and my sanity — and intend to keep both.