Lobstergirl's Reviews > Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse

Courtroom 302 by Steve Bogira
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Oct 05, 13

bookshelves: law, government
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Gloria Swanson
Recommended for: everyone
Read in May, 2009


This account by Chicago Reader reporter Steve Bogira of a year spent observing Judge Daniel Locallo's courtroom in the Cook County Criminal Courthouse is fascinating, thoroughly researched, and well written. Bogira picks a handful of cases from the constant parade of addicts, drug dealers, accused murderers, aggravated batterers, and mobsters who pass before Locallo. We meet one 18 year old murder defendant who wears pigtails and jumpers with Winnie the Pooh logos, but has a tattoo of a hand clutching a penis on her calf, hidden under knee socks. We become acquainted with Frank Caruso Jr., the young son of a reputed mobster who is on trial for nearly beating to death a 13 year old black kid who biked into Caruso's mostly white neighborhood. (Caruso's lawyer, Ed Genson, has since represented R. Kelly, Conrad Black, and Rod Blagojevich, before resigning from Blago's defense team.) We meet the prosecutors, the public defenders, the courtroom deputies, and sometimes the parents and spouses of the defendants.

Interesting things pop up: Locallo bars memory and eyewitness expert Elizabeth Loftus from testifying, because he doesn't like expert testimony; Loftus went on to testify for the defense in the Scooter Libby trial in 2006, where prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald grilled her mercilessly and had her stuttering and backpedaling away from many of her expert conclusions. Particularly embarrassing, Fitzgerald asked the memory expert if they had met before and she responded no, but in fact they had, on a previous case.

Bogira occasionally goes back in time, whether to look at police commander Jon Burge's torture regime (a perjury case against Burge is currently underway in Patrick Fitzgerald's district, the statute of limitations on torture being long past) or the corrupt judges of Operation Greylord.

Judge Locallo presents an interesting study: a judge who gets the highest ratings from bar associations, but has trouble seeing that a judge convicted in Operation Greylord could actually be guilty, because they're friends; and who mulls over whether he should send a drug offender to boot camp or treatment, at the same time that he has "a gentlemen's bet" with another judge over who can send the most offenders to boot camp.

Thoughtfully, Bogira provides an epilogue in which we learn what has happened to the main players between 1998, his year of observation, and 2005 - who's been paroled, pardoned, who's back on the street buying crack after their release, who's managed to smuggle 10 lbs. of raw hamburger meat into their prison cell, who's moved from the criminal courthouse to the civil. This is the kind of book where you want to know that stuff, because Bogira makes it interesting.
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