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Opening Arguments.

Opening Arguments. Jeffrey Toobin. Viking, $22.95 1 opened this book feeling slightly uneasy. Reading it made me feel decidedly worse.

Jeffrey Toobin, fresh out of Harvard Law School, worked with the team of lawyers headed by Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh who prosecuted Oliver North for his role in the Iran-contra scandal. Toobin quit the case and wrote this book after North was convicted on three counts. North later won on appeal; the case now goes back to court.

Toobin wasn't expected to work on the team until the battle was over, but he wasn't expected to work against it, either. In the fight over the release of Opening Arguments, Walsh alleged that the book wrongfully leaked secret grand jury testimony and classified government information. Toobin won at trial and published the book before the Second Circuit could hear Walsh's appeal.

But if the book was absolved in open court, why does it still smell so fishy? For one thing, there's a good argument, not resolved in the prepublication proceedings, that Toobin violated the legal canon of ethics that prohibits the disclosure of information gained in the lawyer/client relationship that would be likely to harm the former client. There's a lot of confidential information in Opening Arguments-like all the juicy stuff about trial strategy. Could its release be used to hurt Walsh's ongoing case against North? I found at least one tidbit that could be useful to North, and I know I'm not as good as North's lawyers, Williams & Connolly. Toobin makes so much of W & C ("tenacious in pursuit of any edge"; possessing a "powerful, rhetorical, slashing, and uncompromising" style), he might have figured pieces of his book would show up in their next brief. That's harmful. And unethical.

Was there anything about the book that outweighed the risk of harm to the government's case? No. A smoking gun showing that Walsh's team misused North's immunized testimony before Congress might have been worth it. But there isn't one. There isn't brilliant legal analysis (ethics and crimes are different, Toobin proclaims) or fresh prose (the answers "reeked of falsehood")-even if these would have made the hasty publication worth it. The trial scenes are good (then again, they always are) but not of real value. Toobin doesn't, for example, tell us what, if anything, came out at the trial that wasn't said before the congressional investigating committees. So what Toobin and his publisher had was a choice: a nice, easy read about dead issues, or a highly saleable tale colored by the rumor of scandal. They unfortunately chose the latter. Unfortunately, that is, for Walsh and his team, and for us, the people, on whose behalf they worked.

-Marian Riedy
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Author:Riedy, Marian
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Words:451
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