Franze's latest legal thriller serves as love letter to Supreme Court


by Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

It was an unflattering quote by the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas – the longest- serving justice whose tenure spanned 1939-75 – about law clerks that gave Anthony Franze the impetus to write his latest legal thriller The Outsider (Minotaur Books $26.99).

“He reportedly said, ‘Law clerks are the lowest form of animal life.’ I don’t know why, but it just stuck in my mind… I started writing a story about a law clerk, but I wanted to make it a law clerk the Supreme Court had never seen before,” said Franze, who turns 47 on April 7.

A former professor at the Michigan State University College of Law where he taught appellate practice and federal jurisdiction classes from 2004-14, Franze is an attorney at the prestigious law Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, LLP in Washington, D.C. He is an alumnus of the University of Nebraska and Notre Dame Law School, who lives in Chevy Chase, Md. with his wife of 25 years, Tracy, a school teacher. Together, they have three children.

“Most Supreme Court law clerks are super-stars in college and law school; they’ve been on the track for greatness seemingly since preschool. I thought it would be fun to put somebody unconventional in that role, so I came up with this character Grayson Hernandez,” he explained.  “Gray grew up on a rough side of D.C. His family are immigrants. He worked at the family restaurant and scrapped his way into a low-rank law school. He graduated and made it out of that neighborhood. But like a lot of graduates, he has massive student loans and couldn’t find a law job, so he takes a job as a messenger, which happens to be at the Supreme Court. He has to deliver mail around the building and do messenger work, while he’s watching these justices and law clerks from the outside – so he’s frustrated.”

However, Gray – who learned how to fight on the mean streets he grew up on – comes across a violent mugging in a parking garage. He fights the assailant off, saving the life of the victim, who happens to be the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court William Douglas (who shares the same name as the actual Douglas mentioned above, which the character jokes about in the book). Indebted to Gray, Douglas takes him under his wing and makes him the newest – not to mention – unlikeliest – law clerk at the Supreme Court when he learns Gray’s a lawyer.

Gray finally achieves his dream job.

Still, Gray doesn’t quite fit in with his fellow law clerks, two of whom are hostile towards him, given how he got his job, which later comes to blows. He eventually earns their respect, even finds a new romance with Lauren Hart, one of his peers.

As things finally look up for Gray, FBI Special Agent Emma Milstein informs him that a serial killer is on the loose and connected to the Supreme Court. Since the first murders occurred before he became a law clerk and the attack on Douglas he stopped was part of this string of killings, the FBI wants them to be their eyes and ears inside One First Street in Washington, D.C.

“It was fun to have Gray interact with some ambitious young Washingtonians,” said Franze. “Since he’s an outsider, the FBI can trust him to report anything suspicious.”

Reluctantly, Gray starts digging up dirt on the law clerks and even the justices. Soon thereafter, the serial killer sets his sights on Gray, framing him for the crimes. To prove his innocence, Gray turns to his childhood friends: Samantha and Arturo, a local gang-leader.

“Ultimately, as the story progresses, it’s really his understanding of Supreme Court precedents and history that helps find this killer who’s obsessed with the Supreme Court,” explained Franze. “Despite what (the real) Justice Douglas said about them, I have many friends who are law clerks and they’re pretty wonderful people.”

While Franze was never a law clerk at the Supreme Court, he has tried numerous cases at the Supreme Court, which has given him a unique perspective. In fact, his two previous novels – The Last Justice and The Advocate’s Daughter – are intrinsically tied to the Supreme Court.

“I’ve also been a watcher, a Supreme Court groupie – whatever you want to call it – for a long time,” said Franze, laughing. “People ask me, ‘Why do you set your books in the Supreme Court?’ Other than the writing component to it, to me, the Supreme Court is a great setting for a novel because it’s a place shrouded in mystery in a lot of ways. The justices operate and make their decisions in secret. The public doesn’t know that much about the high court, so this gives me a great opportunity to take people inside a great institution they don’t know much about.”

Farmington Hills native Allison Leotta, aka “the female John Grisham,” a fellow attorney-turned-author has high praise for Franze’s work. She’s looking forward to reading The Outsider.

“Anthony's real-life experience as a Supreme Court advocate helps him write some of the most authentic and suspenseful legal thrillers out there today,” said Leotta.

Franze was very honored that and humbled that international best-selling novelist James Patterson, best known for the “Alex Cross” and the “Women’s Murder Club” series, liked The Outsider. In fact,
Patterson’s cover blurb reads: “The Outsider is as authentic and suspenseful as any John Grisham novel – and I like Grisham a lot.”

“I didn’t know Mr. Patterson before he agreed to read The Outsider, and I was thrilled – no pun intended – that he liked it and gave a quote for the front cover,” said Franze. “He truly changed the game in the thriller genre with his love of story, short chapters, and sparing prose. It’s no wonder he is literally the bestselling author in the world, and it’s a true honor he supported my work.”