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.

“BUM DEAL” – Levine vs. Lassiter – The Final Chapter

bum deal

By Paul Levine and Jake Lassiter

Author’s Note: This is the last time I sit down with that belligerent, ungrateful wretch Jake Lassiter who owes his very existence to me. He first appeared To Speak for the Dead in 1990, and now thankfully a dozen books later, I’m bidding him goodbye in Bum Deal, in which he switches sides and prosecutes a murder trial while fighting off symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain disease that afflicts former football players. So, no more banging heads in the courtroom. No more trading punches and badgering me with complaints. Sayonara, pal.

Character’s Note: Shut up, Levine, before I smack you in the Adam’s apple with a forearm smash!

Paul: Sit down, Jake, and take a load off.

Jake: You busting my chops about my weight, noodle neck?

Paul: What are you these days, two-fifty, two-fifty-five?

Jake: You’re the one who writes the descriptions, scribbler. I remember in MORTAL SIN, you said I looked like a young Harrison Ford.

Paul: These days, it’s more like an old Ford pickup. I shouldn’t have fed you so many burgers, poured you so many beers.

Jake: I’m as health conscious as the next guy, as long as the next guy is sitting on a bar stool.

Paul: Maybe if you’d evolved into a modern man, you’d have a longer run.

Jake: Sorry that you can’t find my mug on Instagram. And that I don’t have a life coach, an aroma therapist, or a manicurist. And I sure as hell don’t do Pilates.

Paul: Forget all that. Let’s talk about BUM DEAL.

Jake: I’ve seen the promos. What’s this, “Jake Lassiter: The Final Chapter?”

Paul: BUM DEAL is the last of the series. That’s all.

Jake: That’s all! I got no life outside those pages.

Paul: Time to hang up the briefcase, just like you hung up your cleats.

Jake: I didn’t retire. The Dolphins cut me, and I went to night law school.

Paul: Same deal here. You’ve lost a step in the courtroom. Face it, you’re getting along in years.

Jake: Look who’s talking! When are you moving into the Old Writers’ Home?

Paul: Deal with it, Jake. You’ve got brain damage from all those concussions playing football. Maybe you shouldn’t have run full speed into the goalposts. Or all those helmet-to-helmet tackles back in the day.

Jake: You made me do that, you pulp fiction masochist.

Paul: You lose your train of thought. You’re more ornery than usual.

Jake: Look who’s talking, or did I already say that? So what do you expect, people are gonna buy the first twelve books just to find out what happens to me in the thirteenth?

Paul: Every book in the Lassiter series stands alone. They can be read any order.

Jake: That’s right, the LASSITER SERIES! Not the Levine series. No one gives two hoots about you. It’s me, the hard-charging defense lawyer who’s the star.

Paul: In BUM DEAL, you switch sides and prosecute.

Jake: The hell you say! I’d never do that.

Paul: See, the ink is barely dry, and you’ve already forgotten. You’re appointed to prosecute a surgeon accused of killing his wife. Only one problem, or maybe three. No witness, no evidence, and no body.

Jake: That is a bum deal! You’re setting me up to lose.

Paul: Aren’t you the guy who says, “If your cause is just, no case is impossible.” It applies to the state, too.

Jake: That’s your wordsmithery. I just say the lines you feed me.

Paul: Oh, one more thing. Your pals Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord defend the case.

Jake: Who?

Paul: The lead characters in Solomon vs. Lord. Your best pals. See what I mean about your thought processes.

Jake: I’m just messing with you, word boy. But, please not Solomon and Lord. I taught those two kids all my tricks.

Paul: Sorry, Jake. You’ll just have to dig deep and try something new. How about sticking to the rules, standing by the facts, and living with the outcome?

Jake: Why do writers always say things in series of three?

Paul: Probably because it’s pleasing to the ear, easy on the brain, and part of hard-wiring.

Jake: Hilarious, pencil pusher. Say, why would I want to prosecute, anyway? My heart is with the little guy, not the behemoth of the state.

Paul: You’re burned out. Too many guilty clients over too many years.

Jake: There’s truth in that. I lose a lot. Or plead my guy guilty. It’s a dirty little secret, but that’s the deal with most criminal defense lawyers. If anyone knew our real winning percentage, they’d cop a quick plea or jump bail.

Paul: You’ve said that before, Jake. In BUM RAP. Remember?

Jake: Not my fault you’ve got so little imagination that I repeat myself, carbon copy boy. BUM RAP. BUM LUCK. BUM DEAL. What’s the next one, BUM BOOK?

bum deal the final chapter
Bum Deal’s first review

Paul: You forget already? No next book. This is it. The end. The final chapter. Finis. No más.

Jake: Jeez, you’re depressing me.

Paul: Maybe this will cheer you up. Dr. Melissa Gold, an esteemed neuropathologist, takes an interest in you, during and after office hours.

Jake: So just as I’m losing my marbles, you’re giving me a lady that lasts? Is that fair?

Paul: That’s life, pal.

Jake: I hope you get carpal tunnel in both arms, smart guy. You got any other happy news?

Paul: Bum Deal opened as the number one bestselling new legal thriller on Amazon with 98% four and five star reviews.

Jake: Sometimes, 2% of the people are right. Tell me, this, you grim storytelling reaper. Is the last scene in the book my funeral?

Paul: Would I do that to you, Jake? Really. Would I?

###

“BUM DEAL” – Not the Final Chapter for Jake Lassiter

By Paul Levine

When I wrote BUM DEAL (2018), the 13th of the Jake Lassiter Series, I thought it was the final chapter. That’s right. I planned to bid farewell to my old pal Jake, the second-string linebacker who trudged through night law school and became a combative Miami trial lawyer.

Sure, it was a bit sad for me, but Jake’s been having these problems – memory lapses, confusion, headaches – and it seemed like the right time to say goodbye. Dr. Melissa Gold, a neurologist who treats Lassiter during office hours and spends humid nights with him in his Coconut Grove house, fears he may have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as a result of all those concussions on the football field.

“The past clings to us like mud on rusty cleats,” Lassiter says, and now it takes on new meaning, given his medical condition.

But…you know where this is going. Jake said no deal to BUM DEAL being his swan song. In fact, he said he’d break all my fingers to keep me from typing “The End.” Yes, I know he’s fictional, but trust me, I heard him say it. More about this in the “Update” below.

My first work of fiction – if you don’t count my legal briefs – was TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, published in 1990. The book, which has sold well more than two million copies, introduced Jake Lassiter, who early on admitted, “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”

the first Lassiter novel
TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD introduced Jake Lassiter, linebacker-turned lawyer.

A dozen more Jake Lassiter novels followed, including the ingeniously titled LASSITER, in which our hero hides a shameful secret from his past, LAST CHANCE LASSITER, a prequel that reveals how getting fired from his first job as a lawyer shaped the man, and now BUM DEAL, in which Lassiter confronts his own mortality. All thirteen titles are available free to Kindle Unlimited members. Jake Lassiter lives here

In BUM LUCK (2017), Lassiter began showing symptoms consistent with a “precursor” to deadly CTE. I wrote about the issue in the blog item, “Why Does Jake Lassiter Want to Kill His Own Client?” Now, in BUM DEAL, facing an uncertain future, Jake undergoes experimental treatments for CTE, just as he makes a major change in his life, switching sides in the courtroom and prosecuting a surgeon accused of killing his wife. It’s a nearly impossible case with no forensic evidence, no witness, and no body. Complicating matters are Jake’s best friends-turned-antagonists, lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, who defend the surgeon.

Drained of his mental edge just when he needs it most, my old courtroom warrior faces the possibility of losing the case and incurring even greater brain damage when he should be seeking treatment.

bum deal cover
No witness? No evidence? No body? Big problem for new prosecutor Jake Lassiter

So…does Jake Lassiter win or lose the trial? And what’s his condition in when the jury returns its verdict? Hey, don’t ask! I’m keeping my trap shut, relying on attorney-client privilege, the Fifth Amendment, and my desire for you to enjoy the tale. But I will say this. It’s not Lassiter’s final chapter.

UPDATE: Jake Lassiter returns to tackle the true-to-life college admissions scandal in CHEATER’S GAME (2020). I’ll have more to say about that book soon.

Meanwhile, BUM DEAL is available in ebook, paperback and audio editions at Amazon and in paperback at Barnes & Noble and Indiebound.

PRAISE FOR “BUM DEAL”

“Any book with Jake Lassiter is a drop-everything, read-it-now for me – and this one has Solomon & Lord, too. BUM DEAL is fantastic.” – Lee Child, #1 Bestselling Author of the “Jack Reacher” series

“’Bum Deal’ is the real deal. Jake Lassiter at his smart-talking, fast-thinking best. A funny, compelling and canny courtroom thriller, seasoned with a little melancholy and a lot of inside knowledge.” — Scott Turow, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Fascinating, fully developed characters and smart, well-paced dialogue keep the pages turning. Levine manipulates the expectations of the reader as skillfully as Jake manipulates the expectations of the jury” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Full to the brim with the humor, courtroom brilliance and subtle pathos that have made Levine’s other novels winners.” – Bookreporter

“A terrific setup, razor-sharp repartee, and enough plot reversal to make your head swim like an afternoon daiquiri, Bum Deal is vintage Paul Levine: entertaining and exceedingly smart.” —Andrew Gross, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Jake Lassiter is up against his greatest challenge—an incurable, brain-wasting disease that threatens to rob him of his brilliant, legal mind when he needs it the most. It’s an astonishing, bittersweet, and daring gamble, but those are the qualities that have always set Levine and Lassiter apart from the pack.” — Lee Goldberg, #1 New York Times bestselling author

CTE: The Deadly Issue Behind “Bum Luck”

Mystery Writer and former skip tracer Terry Ambrose interviewed me about Bum Luck for his blog,, which I’m reprinting here. The subject of former NFL players dying of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been in the news since publication of the novel in which linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter suffers symptoms of brain damage.

By Terry Ambrose

The author of twenty novels, Paul Levine won the John D. MacDonald fiction award and has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, International Thriller, Shamus, and James Thurber prizes. A former trial lawyer, he also wrote twenty-one episodes of the CBS military drama JAG and co-created the Supreme Court drama First Monday starring James Garner and Joe Mantegna. Levine has just released the twelfth installment of the Jake Lassiter series, Bum Luck.

From Small Screen to Page

“Both writing for television and writing novels are rewarding and challenging in their own ways,” Levine said. “On television, it’s a shared responsibility. Director-showrunner-actors-network executives. The vision doesn’t belong to one person but is diffused. With novels, the writer is a one-person band.”

Jake Lassiter CTE
Does Jake Lassiter suffer from fatal CTE?

While Levine prefers the independence of writing novels, he enjoys the pace of TV writing. “There’s something about the immediacy of television—script to air in six weeks—that is appealing. Also, I believe television scribbling helped my book dialogue.”

Levine said, “Justice as an ideal is an underlying theme for me. The difficulty of achieving justice is the heart and soul of Bum Luck and the entire Jake Lassiter series. That’s reflected in Jake’s inner voice with lines like, ‘Justice is the North Star, the burning bush, the holy virgin. When you fail to attain it, fight for the next best thing. Rough justice is better than none at all.’”

CTE: The Burning Issue Behind Bum Luck

Attorneys defend guilty clients all the time—and that knowledge is also behind the Lassiter series. “The dilemma of a lawyer defending a guilty client has always fascinated me,” Levine said. “In Bum Luck, Jake Lassiter seeks vengeance, or vigilante justice, against his own client.”

That’s right, Jake Lassiter, in the opening lines, announces his intention to kill his client. “Why would Lassiter, after all these years representing guilty clients, feel this way?” Levine said. “He might be very ill. Remember that he’s a former second-string Miami Dolphins linebacker who went to night law school and became a trial lawyer. In Bum Luck, Lassiter suffers symptoms indicating he may be in the early stages of always fatal Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

The film “Concussion” brought CTE into the public consciousness.
“The idea for Bum Luck came from a close friend of mine, a former football player and international rugby player, who died of CTE. It affected me deeply. We know that hundreds of former NFL players have succumbed to traumatic brain injuries caused by repetitive concussions and thousands more will die in the future. It’s a tragic situation, compounded by the NFL’s stubborn resistance to admitting the truth for so many years.”

Levine said his primary goal is to entertain. “That starts with character. I aim for rich, complex, layered and often humorous characters who tell me the plot.”

Note: Just this week, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a harrowing study: 110 of 111 former NFL players who had shown symptoms prior to death were found after autopsies to be suffering from CTE. Recently, Sports Illustrated wrote about legendary linebacker Nick Buoniconti who, among others from the Miami Dolphins’ Super Bowl teams, is suffering from CTE. I previously blogged about the link between repeated blows to the head and CTE in a blog entitled: “Are Concussions Killing Jake Lassiter?”

Are Concussions Killing Jake Lassiter?

Jake Lassiter in his study?

By Paul Levine

“For Don Russo (1946-2014) football player, rugby player, trial lawyer, friend.” — Dedication of “Bum Luck”

In September 1970, on the first day of my first year of law school, while waiting to have my photo I.D. taken, I struck up a conversation with another student, Don Russo. Both Don and I loved college football. As a sports writer, I had written about football. But Don had played. At the University of Miami, he’d been a small, speedy, fearless wide receiver. Going over the middle, he’d been knocked around like a pinball by linebackers 50 pounds heavier. In those days, concussions weren’t taken that seriously by coaches, trainers, or doctors. A player got his “bell rung.” If he still knew his name and could count to three, he could play, concussions be damned.

Don had short stints with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins, but after realizing there were faster, larger wide receivers at that level, he settled into the practice of law. Over the next quarter-century, Don became one of the top plaintiffs’ personal injury and toxic tort lawyers in Florida.

concussions felled Don
Trial Lawyer Don Russo, before being felled by brain disease likely caused by repeated concussions.
He also played rugby on an international level where it is simply not possible to compete without suffering head injuries, including concussions. Compete he did, fiercely and fearlessly.

Don was already showing early symptoms of the disease that would claim his life when the photo above was taken in 2011. The occasion was my appearance at Books & Books in Coral Gables for the launch of “Lassiter.”

concussions and Don
We didn’t know it at the time but concussions had already started to take their toll on Don Russo (left) by 2011.

That’s Don on the left and famed trial lawyer Stuart Grossman on the right. We had all been friends since law school 40 years earlier. Don also attended my first book signing in 1990 for “To Speak for the Dead,” as shown below. Yes, we were both much younger.

before concussions felled my friend
The author with a fit and hardy Don Russo, 1990.

The end came slowly and painfully for Don, his family and friends. Frontal lobe dementia and A.L.S. with symptoms consistent with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, caused by repeated concussions. He died three years ago last month. It was then I decided that Jake Lassiter would have his own encounter with brain injury and potential C.T.E. in my new novel “Bum Luck.” After all, he’d suffered a series of concussions going back to high school in the Florida Keys, through his playing days at Penn State, and on the aptly named suicide squads with the Miami Dolphins. How does Lassiter’s potential brain damage manifest itself. How about the first sentence of the novel?

Thirty seconds after the jury announced its verdict, I decided to kill my client.

By now, most readers are aware of the work of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who established the link between football head injuries and the fatal disease. You may have seen the movie “Concussion” in which Will Smith stars as Dr. Omalu and runs into the stone wall of deniers at the N.F.L.

concussions on film
The Hollywood film brought home the danger of repeated concussions.

The casualty list of former players with C.T.E. reads like an All-Pro team. In fact, on one restless night in “Bum Luck,” Lassiter has a nightmare inspired by his own fears of brain damage:

I dreamed of a football game played by dead men.

Not zombies. Nothing so weird.

The men were very much alive in the game. Young and strong and fast. In their prime, but even my somnolent brain knew they were dead now.

A fine mist covered the field, so it was difficult to make out the stadium, but it seemed to be the Orange Bowl, as long gone as the players. Earl Morrall, with his crew cut and square jaw, wearing a vintage Dolphins’ jersey, lofted a perfect pass to Frank Gifford, the golden boy, in a Giants’ uniform. Gifford juked past Dave Duerson, in Bears’ blue and orange, and sailed into the end zone, untouched. My sleeping mind mashed it all up, not caring about team rosters or eras. An all-star dream team all linked by brain damage caused by C.T.E.

In Lassiter’s fictional world, Dr. Melissa Gold, a neuropathologist, will try experimental treatments actually being used in the real world. As you may have read, in post-mortem tests of brain tissues, 90 of 94 former professional football players who had shown symptoms of dementia were revealed to have, in fact, suffered from C.T.E. resulting from repetitive concussions. Just last month, two living former NFL stars – Gale Sayers and Dwight Clark – were revealed to be suffering from symptoms consistent with C.T.E. (The gruesome fact is that a positive diagnosis can only be made post-mortem).

The more I researched, the more angry I became at the NFL for its shameful conduct in lying about the connection between football concussions and dementia. And when I get angry, so does Jake Lassiter. He always relishes a challenge. This time, I gave him one that might be too tough, even for the ex-linebacker with the hard bark and tender heart.

Let’s hope he makes it through the gathering fog of this dark night.