First edition cover
|Cover artist||John Fontana
Shasti O'Leary Soudant
|January 29, 2008|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
The Appeal is a 2008 novel by John Grisham, his twentieth book and his first fictional legal thriller since The Broker was published in 2005. It was published by Doubleday and released in hardcover in the United States on January 29, 2008. A paperback edition was released by Delta Publishing on November 18, 2008.
Politics has always been a dirty game. Now justice is, too.
Mississippi attorneys Wes and Mary Grace Payton have battled New York City-based Krane Chemical in an effort to seek justice for their client Jeannette Baker, who lost her husband and young son to cancer likely caused by carcinogenic pollutants the company knowingly and negligently allowed to seep into the town of Bowmore's water supply. When the jury awards the plaintiff $3 million in wrongful death damages and $38 million in punitive damages, billionaire stockholder Carl Trudeau vows to do whatever is necessary to overturn their decision and save the company's stocks.
Since Mississippi Supreme Court justices are elected rather than appointed, Trudeau plots with Barry Rinehart of Troy-Hogan, a Boca Raton firm that deals only in judicial elections and does secret deals off shore, to select a candidate who can defeat Sheila McCarthy, known for her tendency to side with the underdog. Their choice is Ron Fisk, a lawyer with no prior political experience or ambitions. He is naive enough to be impressed by all the attention shown him by his backers and not question the source of the considerable funds pouring into his coffers or the underhanded tactics used by his campaign team. Also thrown into the ring by Rinehart is heavy-drinking gambler Clete Coley, a clownish rogue third candidate designed to make McCarthy think her campaign will be easy, draw support away from her, and then cede it to Fisk when he eventually withdraws from the race.
Fisk defeats McCarthy and immediately adopts the position expected of him. He votes against upholding several large settlements in cases brought before the court on appeal, and the Paytons expect he will do the same when their case comes up for review. What they don't anticipate is Fisk unexpectedly being forced to rethink his stand when his son is seriously injured by the impact of a defective product and left permanently impaired by a medical error. The issue of corporate responsibility affects him and his family on a personal level. However, even though Fisk feels that he has been used and tricked, he makes no move to do what is right, and has come to relish his new-found wealth and power. He sides with the big corporation and does not take any action for what happened to his son because he would "look silly."
Grisham's plots closely resembles a real-life decade-long legal battle between West Virginia coal mining competitors. When Don Blankenship, chairman and CEO of A.T. Massey Coal, lost a $50 million verdict in a fraud lawsuit brought by Hugh Caperton and Harman Mining over the cancellation of a long-term coal contract, he contributed $3 million to help Charleston lawyer Brent Benjamin unseat incumbent Judge Warren McGraw. Benjamin won the election, and three years later, when Massey's appeal reached the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, Caperton's lawyers asked him to recuse himself because of Blankenship's financial support. Benjamin declined and cast the crucial vote to reverse the Caperton verdict. Among those who noticed similarities between the case and The Appeal was former West Virginia justice Larry Starcher, who criticized Benjamin for not disqualifying himself. He wrote in an opinion, "I believe John Grisham got it right when he said that he simply had to read The Charleston Gazette to get an idea for his next novel."
In June 2009, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Justice Benjamin should have recused himself in Caperton v. Massey, sending the case back to the West Virginia Supreme Court. Writing for the majority in the 5 to 4 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy called the appearance of conflict of interest "so extreme" that the failure to recuse constituted a threat to the plaintiff’s Constitutional right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s dissent warned that the United States Supreme Court majority decision would have dire consequences for "public confidence in judicial impartiality."
Only a minority of states elect judges directly, a controversial system virtually unknown outside the United States. The Appeal has been seen as an attack on this system of selecting judges, since judges have a conflict of interest when ruling on cases involving major campaign contributors.
Grisham has stated that the novel was inspired by the tax evasion and bribery cases involving former Mississippi Supreme Court Judge Oliver E. Diaz, Jr.. Mississippi elects judges directly. Grisham appears in the documentary Hot Coffee commenting on Judge Diaz.
- Biskupic, Joan (February 16, 2009). "Supreme Court case with the feel of a best seller". USA Today. Retrieved June 18, 2010.
- Liptak, Adam (June 9, 2009). "Justices Tell Judges Not to Rule on Major Backers". The New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2010.
- Liptak, Adam (May 25, 2009). "Rendering Justice, With One Eye on Re-election". The New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2010.
- Doroshow, Joanne. "Watch Hot Coffee, a Powerful New Film on HBO June 27". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 1, 2011.