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December 17, 2009

Dominick Dunne, "Gus Bailey" and the law (Updated)

The late author Dominick Dunne dishes the dirt in his final book, "Too Much Money." This story discusses how Dunne used a thin veil of fiction to describe the handling of a lawsuit brought against him by former congressman Gary Condit, called "Kyle Cramden" in the novel.

Suits & Sentences, while not recommending this book, will take further notice of Dunne's treatment of the legal profession. He calls his real-life libel attorney Paul LiCalsi "Peter Lombardo" in the book, and describes him as a "tough one." He needs to be. Condit's real-life attorney L. Lin Wood is called, tee hee, "Win Burch," and he is described as the kind of fierce advocate who can bring people to tears during depositions.

Dunne's character, "Gus Bailey," discusses how he's afraid of being interrogated during his deposition by "Win Burch." In real life, Dunne was originally represented by First Amendment attorney Laura Handman, before replacing her with LiCalsi.

Handman is called "Flora Dickens" in the book; she is described as being "the best in this field" and is said to be with the firm "Erskine, Sondheim & Hollerith." The book characterizes the Handman stand-in as very well-schooled, but not a good fit with the Dunne character, partly because she is not based in New York. In real life, Handman spends time in Washington, D.C. and is with the firm Davis Wright Tremain.

A television matroness and High Society denizen named "Christine Saunders," who is described as "the first lady of television" and who Suits & Sentences guesses is modeled on Barbara Walters, advises "Gus Bailey" to switch attorneys.

In an intriguing aside, "Gus Bailey" is assured by the editor of "Park Avenue" magazine, a stand-in for Vanity Fair, that all legal fees would be covered with an author's bonus once the case ended. Of course, "Gus Bailey" adds, this promise was never put down in writing.

The book is filled with nasty little asides that verge on the self-loathing. In the book, "Gus Bailey" appears on an "underwatted radio show" hosted by "Patience Longstreet." The audience for the show, Dunne writes "was minimal." In real life, Dunne got into trouble with Condit for what he said on Laura Ingraham's intelligent but, err, underappreciated radio show.

Dunne admires toughness, though. The book describes an attorney working with the LiCalsi character as "Miranda Slater," who is said to be "the smartest and toughest of the young lawyers in the firm." Suits & Sentences believes this to be Rachel G. Balaban, a Cornell and NYU Law School grad who worked the case with LiCalsi.

There are some clear breaks from the facts, as well. LiCalsi noted, for instance, that in real life Dunne "very valiantly sat for days of tough depositions" conducted by Wood. In the book -- wishful thinking, perhaps? -- the case is resolved before "Gus Bailey" is deposed.


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Hey what a wonderful man! Also worth checking out the documentary about him called DOMINICK DUNNE: AFTER THE PARTY, it is a nice addition to the book!!

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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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