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June 20th, 2009

Review: Why Just Her

Why Just Her Book

I’m finally done with Why Just Her by Montgomery Sibley. When I first got the book I had told Sibley I’d likely be done with it at the end of May. Even when I realized the book was almost 600 pages I was still sure I’d make my deadline. After all, I read the last Harry Potter book in a weekend. Surely I could finish his book in a few weeks right?

Turns out, I was way off. I often took several days off between chapters. Reading the story of Palfrey’s legal nightmare was both disheartening and enraging. But before getting into the review I’d first like to thank Sibley for not once complaining about my tardiness. I appreciate his patience.

What do I think of this book? It’s a good one. I’m left with the impression that Sibley tried to pack in every detail of this case into the book as he could. There are several spots where he tells the reader that he’s legally prevented from disclosing certain facts about the case.

There were many surprises in the book. Civil forfeiture laws are much nastier than I ever realized. It’s hard to grasp that the government can legally seize all of a suspect’s assets before they’re found guilty of a crime. And I had no idea that judges can just refuse to rule on certain aspects of a case. Judge Kessler was supposed to make a ruling within 30 days of a particular motion concerning Palfrey’s civil forfeiture. But she just refused to rule. How is that legal?! If someone had suggested that to me before reading this book I probably would have thought they were joking. Certainly judges are legally required to rule on everything before them right? Not so much as it turns out.

Throughout the book Sibley shares email correspondence between himself and Palfrey. I was surprised with how much “behind the scenes” moments he shared with the reader. It makes you feel like you know her better. One email from Palfrey gave me the chills when I read it. While recounting how she found out her assets had been seized she writes:

“You do know this don’t you? Surely, you must. You can’t possibly be so blind as not to see what is all around you, in modern day America. Acquiescence has usurped freedom. It happened when you weren’t looking. Laziness and lives consumed with junk topped with more than a fair amount of sheer terror-real and imagined-has permitted your life to become a faux independence. One which allows, if not ostensibly encourages the likes of those predisposed to abuse-to reign over the rest of us. With impunity.”

It reads as if Palfrey is counseling us from the grave.

In the months running up to her trial Palfrey and Sibley had a falling out. He shares emails from her that portray him in a negative light. I was impressed at his openness. What caused her to lose faith in him? Sibley writes “I believe someone had whispered in Jeane’s ear.” He’s probably right. Throughout her ordeal there’s incident after incident of her case being tampered.

I have a few critiques. There are a number of spelling errors in the book. Of course there will be a minor amount of errors that escape the editor but it seemed I was noticing a higher number in this book. The errors were minor-trail instead of trial, witnesses instead of witnessed-that sort of thing. This probably won’t bother most readers. It’s just something I tend to notice.

I was a little disappointed there were no footnotes. However, I’m not sure what kind of notes I was expecting. It just seemed that a book like this, one focused around and referencing numerous legal rulings, should have them. Maybe a list of the cases referenced in the book? Or a list of all the various rulings in Palfrey’s case?

Another disappoint was Sibley’s belief that Palfrey did indeed commit suicide. That’s not a critique of the book. He’s certainly entitled to believe it was suicide. I’m just surprised is all. Another madam, Jody, wrote Sibley and said about Palfrey, “She’s now joined our ranks as Bruce showed me exists. Which means her life is in very real danger.” It seems Jody was right, whether Palfrey committed suicide or was suicided. Sibley writes “Would that her death had been the result of some nefarious, surreptitious, government plot to protect prominent leaders.” I can’t help but think that it was!

The epilogue was way too short. Perhaps Sibley was facing a deadline so not many events after Palfrey’s death could be included. Near the end of the book he writes that Palfrey’s death has scarred him. I wish he would have expanded on his feelings. Sibley was a part of Palfrey’s life and case during such a significant time. I wanted to hear more of his perspective. Is it difficult to practice law after seeing how much the legal system was perverted in this case? Or is he more energized to fight the system? How has Palfrey’s case shaped the legal landscape? Were any precedents set? Does he think prostitution rings will be more or less prosecuted because of Palfrey’s situation? How has working with Palfrey affected his legal career?

And what of the other players in this twisted legal game? Were Judge Kessler or Judge Robertson’s careers affected in any way? And what about Preston Burton? Sibley describes Preston during Palfrey’s criminal case-”To me, it appeared that Jeane was like an inconvenient pet being taken to the veterinarian’s office to be put down quietly, so there would be no fuss.” I was repeatedly shocked by Preston’s decisions regarding her case.

The question “why just her” never is really answered. As shown above, this book raises more questions than it answers. At the beginning of Chapter 22 Sibley quotes Otto von Bismark: “People who love sausage and people who believe in justice should never watch either of them being made.”

How true. Before reading this book I considered myself pretty disillusioned with how governments work. And yet I feel more disgruntled and deeply disappointed in our legal system. Like I said in my mini review-this isn’t a fun read but it’s an important one. If you don’t know much about how law works in the US this book will be a hard wake up call. For those like me that are already cynical this book will serve as yet more evidence of why the system needs to be changed.

In a nutshell: Read this book.

Posted by Vixen in Reviews

This entry was posted on Saturday, June 20th, 2009 at 11:59 pm and is filed under Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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