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The Life and Career of Brandt Goldstein: Author, Storming the Court
by Charisse Dengler
As Goldstein's book describes, the refugees were democracy activists who had fled a military coup in Haiti. Officials from the first Bush administration denied them entry to the U.S. after they tested positive for HIV.
Upon graduation from law school, Goldstein did what most law school graduates do: He began practicing law in order to pay off his law school loans. However, he said he knew during the first hour that he wasn't destined to be a "typical lawyer." In October 1997, he left the practice of law to concentrate solely on writing Storming the Court and has been writing ever since.
The book, which took almost seven years to complete, was named one of the 10-best nonfiction books of the year in 2005 by Kirkus Reviews, probably because the gripping, real-life story reads just like a novel.
"In the tradition of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood—I wanted it to read like a novel; but it's a nonfiction narrative," he said. "Every word in it is true; and to back it up, the book has 30 pages of notes explaining the source of every last snippet of material. I didn't modify or alter anything. It's all based on interviews, newspaper articles, law review pieces, travel to the places where things took place. And nevertheless, if I've done my job right, it reads just like a thriller."
In order to capture the captivating story with complete accuracy, Goldstein conducted what some would consider excessive research.
"I interviewed 250 people—some of them 40 or 50 times. I read tens of thousands of pages of legal documents," he said. "Then, I boiled it all down and tried to tell—not the story of a lawsuit—but a compelling human story about law students standing up against the White House for what they believed in."
Currently, plans are underway to turn the well-received book into a major motion picture, with Warner Bros. owning the film rights and Michael Seitzman (who wrote North Country) set to write and direct the film.
"I always thought that this story about law students fighting for justice against all odds and winning would appeal to some people because it's a David and Goliath story, and those have been popular since the Bible," Goldstein said. "But realistically, most Americans don't pay very much attention to Haiti or Haitian refugees. So, I tried to tell the story of just one woman from Haiti so people could identify with her as an individual. She gets tortured in Port-au-Prince for her belief in democracy and then, after fleeing for her life, ends up suffering brutal treatment at the hands of the INS and American troops on Guantanamo."
"In the end, I hope the book resonates as a tale not only about young people trying to keep America true to its highest principles, but about the perseverance of this incredibly beautiful, charismatic woman who simply wanted to get to freedom and save her children."
Since Storming the Court's release, Goldstein has had several extraordinary experiences meeting or speaking with readers of the book, including a long telephone call with William Sloane Coffin, the real-life inspiration for Doonesbury's Reverend Sloan (Coffin died just months after Goldstein spoke with him); but Goldstein said the two biggest highlights of the last year were giving a book reading at his hometown bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI, and getting an email from REM.
"The last four people I thanked in the book—without explaining to anyone who they were—were Michael, Mike, Peter, and Bill, who are the four founding members of REM, though Bill Berry has left the band. A friend of theirs—somebody I know who happens to know their manager—passed on the book, and I got an email from the manager and the band expressing real interest in the book and support for possibly having their music in the movie. Obviously, I saved that email. You don't get an email from a world-famous rock band everyday," he said.
In addition to Storming the Court, Goldstein also co-authored Me v. Everybody: Absurd Contracts for an Absurd World with Dahlia Lithwick. He and Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate, based the satirical work on a Valentine's Day contract Lithwick had written during law school.
"We took that idea and ran with it," he said, "We wrote everything from a contract that you have with your pet to one for a long-term relationship to how to split a restaurant bill among four people."
Goldstein also has somewhat of a cult following due to an article he wrote for FindLaw's Writ in 2000. Writ, which is the original legal commentary section of FindLaw, was created in 2000 by Goldstein, Lithwick, and two of Goldstein's Yale classmates. His article, "The Real Ten Best Law Schools," is a spoof on the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking; and to say it is funny would be an understatement.
Currently, Goldstein is working as a contributing feature writer for the online addition of the Wall Street Journal, working on the Documentary Companion to Storming the Court, writing book reviews for publications such as the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, working on a screenplay, doing research for his next book, and getting ready to join New York Law School in the fall as a visiting scholar. He'll also be addressing the entire incoming class at Fordham Law School in August, and he's anticipating the release of Storming the Court in paperback this December.
"My biggest hope for this book is that it reaches a broader audience so people can read what I think is a compelling story about a woman who stood up for democracy in her home country of Haiti and ended up being held on Guantanamo like a prisoner of war and a group of students who took on the White House to free her and won," he said. "She's now in the United States working a full-time job, and her son is in the Marines and recently came back from Iraq—kind of an amazing coda to this story."
When asked if he had any advice to give law students, Goldstein answered: "Don't trust anyone's advice, because it's always in the form of nostalgia packaged as people talking to themselves about what they wish they'd done. With that caveat, I'd say it really pays not to become a lemming and do what everyone else is doing. Struggle to think about what you yourself—in your heart—want to accomplish; and if it doesn't involve, for example, clerking for a judge, then don't do it just because other people are doing it."
Goldstein admitted that it took him a while to get things right. In fact, he said most people thought he was crazy for leaving the practice of law without a concrete plan of what to do next.
"I was $55,000 in credit card debt thanks to writing this book," he said. "I'd lost my shirt. I'd lost my sense of direction, and sometimes I felt like I was losing my mind. But it's like Winston Churchill said, 'Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.'"
If you are interested in inviting Goldstein to speak at your law firm, public interest organization, or law school, he will be touring again beginning in January 2007. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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