Former prosecutor tries to make living by the book

December 14, 1992|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,Book Editor

It was December 1989. Gallatin Warfield had resigned from his job as chief felony prosecutor in Howard County's state's attorney office -- in part because he felt burned out after 15 years as a prosecutor, and in part because he wanted to write a novel. And now the county's legal community was giving him a "roast."

"So you're quitting your job to write the next 'Presumed Innocent,' " one speaker said to him, referring to the best-selling thriller by Chicago attorney Scott Turow. The speaker paused, then continued with exaggerated skepticism. "Riightt!"

Mr. Warfield tells that story now with relish. "I'm sure a lot of people thought I'd be just like every other lawyer who thought he was Scott Turow and could write a legal thriller," he says. "And who could blame them?"

But in Mr. Warfield's case, it was no empty dream. He sat down on Jan. 2, 1990, plugged in a word processor he didn't know how to operate, and began to write.

Almost three years later, the results are on a desk in his Ellicott City law office. Gallatin Warfield proudly shows a visitor a copy of his first novel, "State v. Justice," which was just published by Warner Books. Next to it is the British edition, soon to be released.

"It's a very nervous, very exhilarating time for me," Mr. Warfield, 46, confesses. "To work so hard on something like this, and to see it finally come about . . ." His voice trails off; no completion is necessary.

In "State v. Justice," the protagonist is a prosecutor in an unnamed Western Maryland county who must handle a delicate case -- the murder of the young son of a Soviet diplomat. The prosecutor, Gardner Lawson, goes against Kent King, a ruthless defense attorney who also happens to be seeing Lawson's ex-wife.

"Here was the behind-the-scenes struggle that the public never saw," Mr. Warfield writes as the two begin their book-long confrontation. "Intense psychological warfare with no rules, no ethics."

Naturally, given Mr. Warfield's long tenure as a prosecutor in Howard County and his ties to the community, there has been considerable speculation in legal circles about "State v. Justice." He is a ninth-generation resident of the county, and a great-uncle, Edwin Warfield, was governor of Maryland from 1904-1908. A second cousin, Edwin Warfield IV, is the publisher of the Daily Record and Warfield's Business Record.

"Around the courthouse group of people who see each other on a regular basis, there has been quite a buzz about the book," says Carol Hanson, a former prosecutor with Mr. Warfield who now is district public defender. "You know -- is that character so-and-so?"

Mr. Warfield, a genial, bear-like man with a full beard, laughs easily when the question is brought up.

"There was a great deal of hoopla about this book," he says in his office. "And there was the assumption that I was writing this expose, a behind-the-scenes tell-all about the county. That was never the intent, but I enjoyed maintaining the facade to keep the interest level up."

As for King, he says, "There are a number of well-known defense attorneys in the state who might see part of themselves in Kent King. I combined all of the qualities to make up a defense attorney from hell -- all the qualities a prosecuting attorney does not want to see in a defense attorney."

Perhaps the strongest aspect of "State v. Justice" is the &L meticulous depiction of a prosecution of a crime, from its commission to the trial. "I wanted this book to be just like a prosecutor's file," Mr. Warfield says. To illustrate his point, he leans over to pick up a folder of a case he is handling as a defense attorney. "A prosecutor's file shows the development of a trial in every step. I want the reader to see this case from the eyes of a prosecutor."

That includes the combative, sometimes nasty relationship that develops between a prosecutor and a defense attorney. "He got that absolutely true to life," says Jim Hanson, who is married to Carol Hanson and is another Howard County attorney. "The part about it getting personal -- that can really happen in a trial."

"If it's a big case, and the stakes are as high as they were in the case in this book and in many cases I've tried, it's difficult not to develop an animosity toward your opponent," Mr. Warfield concedes. "I can say personally there have been cases in which I utterly despised my opponent at the time. And yet, when it was all over, by the nature of the legal system, you sort of have to kiss and make up."

As a prosecutor, other Howard County lawyers say, Mr. Warfield was not unlike his fictional Gardner Lawson -- tough, fair and idealistic.

"He was a polished professional -- a good prosecutor," says defense attorney Charles Ware. "He took it very seriously and maintained a code of honor, which is very difficult to do with the pressures on a prosecutor."

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