Q&A: Author James Patterson on the many trials of defense lawyer Barry Slotnick

(Reuters) - More than three decades after New York City was riveted by the courtroom drama of Bernhard Goetz, a white man accused of shooting a group of Black men in the subway, author James Patterson has written a book about the lawyer who won an acquittal of Goetz's attempted murder charges with a self-defense strategy. "The Defense Lawyer,” which comes out on Monday, focuses on the trials of now-retired New York attorney Barry Slotnick, 82, whose clients also included accused mob member Vincent “Chin” Gigante, Melania Trump for her pre-nup, and Winnie the Pooh in a licensing dispute with the Walt Disney Co.

Patterson spoke with Reuters about Slotnick and the real-life cases that draw Patterson in.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

REUTERS: Do you see parallels between the Kyle Rittenhouse and Ahmaud Arbery cases and the Goetz case?

JAMES PATTERSON: I was sort of addicted to the Rittenhouse and the Arbery cases. And that's one of the reasons I think this book is particularly relevant right now, especially the Goetz case, because (with Rittenhouse) we have a case where somebody had to prove that Rittenhouse wasn't guilty because he felt his life was threatened. And that was essentially the strategy in the Goetz case – that Barry had to convince the jury that this guy felt his life was threatened and that's why he shot these people.

REUTERS: About your interest in crime and legal cases -- what makes a compelling case to you?

PATTERSON: I read a fair amount. I like John Grisham's stuff. The beauty of courtroom cases is there's a beginning and middle and an end and a conclusion. In life we want things resolved, and unfortunately, a lot of things don't get resolved. But in a courtroom, for better or worse, there's a resolution. There it is, guilty or innocent.

REUTERS: Did you come out of writing this book feeling like everybody deserves a defense?

PATTERSON: Everybody does deserve a defense. It does get tricky when you get a dream team, and they're so talented and so good, and so somebody's gonna get off.

REUTERS: Tell me a little about Slotnick, and why you decided to write about him.

PATTERSON: He's certainly one of the most successful defense lawyers ever. I was just sold on the thing. I was actually sold once I heard the Bullets story.

REUTERS: Tell us the Bullets story.

PATTERSON: Chin Gigante had this big dog named Bullets, and Bullets was a little bit of a mean dog. He bit this lady out in the street, and the cops had the dog. Gigante came to Slotnick. He said, ‘You gotta get my dog back.’ This is pure Slotnick. He gathered up three or four other dogs that looked like Bullets. He brought them in, and the lady could not identify which of the dogs was Bullets. The case got dropped. And that's how he got connected to the mob.

REUTERS: What are you drawn to when you hear a good story?

PATTERSON: It's a gut thing. When I'm telling a story, what I like to do is I pretend there's one person sitting across from me. I'm telling them a story. I don't want them to get up until I'm done. When I met Barry and started hearing the stories, it's amazing stuff. And part of it has to do with the way he was an escape artist. He figured out ways to get out of whatever box they put him in, he would figure out a way to get out of it and win.

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