Friday, September 9, 2005
Author/Attorney Richard North Patterson Kicks Off Bar Convention With Politically Charged Speech
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Novelist and retired attorney Richard North Patterson touched on a series of political hot buttons in kicking off the 78th convention of the State Bar of California with remarks at a luncheon in San Diego yesterday.
Patterson, the author of 13 novels and a former partner in the San Francisco firm of McCutcheon, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, described himself as a “secular humanist” and spoke about abortion, gun control, and capital punishment—all issues he has explored in his fiction.
In introducing Patterson, outgoing State Bar President John Van de Kamp said that while the author “has kept many of us awake at night,” he “writes of significant issues.”
Van de Kamp declared:
“We stay up because it’s worth it.”
Patterson newest novel, “Conviction,” addresses what the author sees as the injustices in the way the death penalty is applied in the United States. Only one out of 10 persons who qualifies for the death penalty actually receives it, Patterson said, arguing that quality of representation, lack of resources, and social and economic background often make more difference than issues like protecting society or punishing heinous crime.
Other Patterson novels have explored gun control—imagining a multiple slaying of relatives of a United States first lady—and partial birth or late term abortion. In “Protect and Defend,” Patterson’s plot involves a female nominee for United States chief justice in the dilemma of a teenaged girl whose fetus suffers from a birth defect and who could, if she carries the pregnancy to term, be unable to have any more children.
The law Patterson posits for his protagonist to confront—much, he says, like some current laws—restricts late term abortions to cases where the mother’s health is threatened, but only vaguely defines what that means.
Such laws, Patterson asserted, are really aimed at compelling “more teenage girls to become mothers.” While conceding that abortion may be an evil, Patterson said the research he did for “Protect and Defend” convinced him that unwanted births are a greater evil.
“Should we force families to have more children when they cannot support the ones they have?” the author asked, adding that some in government “seem to love our children most before they are born.”
Patterson said his novels aim to entertain, but explained he has not found it necessary to shy away from topics that make people uncomfortable in order to gain a readership.
“If that also stirs controversy or makes people mad, so much the better,” he declared.
But, after drawing a parallel between President Bill Clinton’s sexual missteps while in office and those he had previously attributed to a fictional president, and another parallel between legislation to protect gun manufacturers from liability and a statute he had earlier imagined in his novel “Balance of Power,” Patterson observed that he felt some qualms about taking on the issue of capital punishment in “Conviction.”
“Reality has forced me to notice that whenever I write about a problem the problem gets worse,” the author said.
His career as a novelist, Patterson told the audience of about 400, began when he was working for an Alabama litigation firm with a national practice that required him to be away from his then-1-year-old son on frequent business trips. One day, after leaving for the airport and watching the child waving goodbye, Patterson explained, he decided something in his lifestyle had to change.
“By the time the plane took off I was asking myself how else I could make a living,” Patterson declared.
He concluded his training qualified him to do little other than “annoy people” in order to pay his mortgage, Patterson said, but then realized that being a novelist is a career for which there are no qualifications.
Though his first novel, published in 1979, had limited success in the marketplace—it became, Patterson said, an “instant rare book” —it also won an Edgar Allen Poe award as the year’s most promising first novel.
Though his literary career has had its ups and downs, Patterson explained, recalling that he received 13 rejections for one novel, including one on his 30th birthday, he said it has also allowed him to be “better company and a better father.”
It has had other rewards as well, he said, commenting:
“I could murder characters at will and delete people I didn’t like. Making things up was so preferable to reality.”
The kickoff luncheon was co-sponsored by the Foundation of the State Bar of California, the State Bar’s charitable arm, and Van de Kamp used the occasion to recognize 48 law students to whom the foundation this year awarded scholarships totaling $215,000. Foundation President Pauline A. Weaver said the foundation has distributed more than $2.7 million in grants and more than $1.6 million in scholarships since it was created in 1990.
The convention continues through this weekend, with more than 5,000 attorneys are expected to attend. It features a wide variety of MCLE training sessions with topics ranging from complex support calculations to managing client expectations.
The California Judges Association is meeting concurrently at the same San Diego hotel next door to the San Diego Convention Center, and a statewide meeting of judicial branch officials is also being held.
Riverside attorney James O. Heiting and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry Friedman are slated to be sworn in tomorrow by Chief Justice Ronald M. George as presidents of the State Bar and the CJA, respectively. George will also address a joint session of the groups, giving his view of the current state of the court system.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company