April 18 2012 12:00 AM

MSU adjunct professor pens a legal thriller


Being an appellate lawyer was both an asset and a hindrance for author Anthony J. Franze when he was writing his first novel, “The Last Justice.”

“It was helpful because when you’ve chosen to write for a living, whether you’re writing as a lawyer, a journalist, or in some context, you enjoy the process and get a lot of experience,” said Franze, 41, an adjunct professor of law in Michigan State University’s Washington, D.C., Semester Program. “On the other hand, legal writing and fiction writing are quite different. As a lawyer, I try and say as much as I can in as few words as possible and cut out unnecessary detail. I’m still a believer of less-is-more in fiction writing, but I admit that my editor made me go back in a few places to add some details to help set a scene.”

In “The Last Justice,” an assassin murders six Supreme Court justices as they are hearing a case. Solicitor General Jefferson McKenna, the government’s top lawyer in the Supreme Court, is placed in charge of a multi-agency commission that is investigating the slayings. As Congress butts heads over who is going to replace the murdered justices, McKenna himself becomes a suspect. He has no choice but to go on the lam in an effort to prove his innocence.

“The idea for (the book) came about when I was actually doing research for an academic article and looking into the Supreme Court confirmation process,” Franze said. “I know that the process can be controversial, and we all remember the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings. As I dug in, I learned it’s been controversial since the very beginning: John Rutledge — George Washington’s nominee for chief justice — tried drowning himself after he was rejected by the Senate. As the wheels were turning, I realized that replacing just one justice can be a drama-filled, contentious event in our country. What would happen if the nation were faced with a situation where the president would have the opportunity to replace the majority of the Supreme Court or all of it? That was the spark. From there, I wrote the first two pages of the book and it took off from there.” 

It took Franze a little more than five years to complete his book. “Writing the novel was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, harder even than writing complex appellate briefs. Just finding the time to write with a busy law practice and spending time with my wife and three young children was extraordinarily difficult. Much of the book was written between the hours of 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., or on an airplane or train, as long as I could write without getting too tired.”

For Franze, the best part about writing this novel was detailing the workings of the Supreme Court. 

“I got to write something I was familiar with and also introduce readers to an institution a lot of people don’t know too much about. It’s not only an important institution, it’s also got an air of mystery about it,” he said. “People know it exists, but somebody once did a survey and more of the public could identify Judge Judy before they could a Supreme Court justice. I took something I love and try to integrate accurate Supreme Court history and procedures into what I hope is a fast-paced story and introduce readers to a fascinating world.”