Doggone: Novelist?s book was inspired by her goldendoodle


By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Attorney-turned-author Laura Caldwell’s latest novel “The Dog Park” was supposed to be the next installment of lawyer Izzy McNeil, her series character.

“I sold seven Izzy McNeil books to my publisher, MIRA. But by the time I got to planning the last, I’d become one of those dog people. My Facebook page had gone from books… to a whole lot of dog stuff.  Since we had two completed Izzy trilogies, my agent and editor and I decided to do a single title – ‘The Dog Park,’” said Caldwell, the Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Loyola  School of Law, her alma mater. 

In “The Dog Park” Jessica and her ex-husband Sebastian agree to joint custody of their dog Baxter. However, when Baxter’s rescue of a child is caught on video and goes viral,  Jessica and Sebastian find themselves back together and their lives take unexpected twists  in the glare of the media spotlight.

“I’d heard from fellow attorneys that they were getting asked to write dog custody agreements into divorce settlements, even though the law doesn’t usually officially recognize them. At the same time pet videos were exploding online. So I decided a couple who shared joint custody of their dog would get thrown together again when their dog is in a video that goes viral,” explained Caldwell.

Baxter was inspired by her  goldendoodle that has more than 6,000 followers on Twitter.

Practicing law is a family tradition for Caldwell. Her late grandfather William Caldwell, her father William Caldwell Jr., and her uncle Judge Michael Caldwell are/were part of the law firm Caldwell Berner & Caldwell in Woodstock, Ill., which celebratedits 100th anniversary on Oct. 2. These men – like her – are Loyola Law alumni.

“I graduated from law school and started practicing law,” said Caldwell, who was a civil trial attorney, doing medical malpractice for Clausen Miller in Chicago. “I was writing the whole time because I felt I needed something creative. I saw a class for novel writing, which had a creative bent to it. I was getting into that grind that every new professional does: you get up, work late, and go home. From that circle, I thought I needed to do something creative.”

Caldwell has published 14 novels and one non-fiction book. She’s written in the mystery-thriller genre and in the romantic comedy genre. Her first book was “Burning the Map,” a rom-com about a law school grad who travels to Europe before starting her first job as an attorney. Her first mystery-thriller “Look Closely” was set in Michigan. 

Writing “The Rome Affair” was a game-changer. “I have a scene where a Chicago couple’s at the police station. Their friend fell off their balcony and died. The cops are trying to get this couple to confess to killing her. As a reader, you don’t know the details – if it was intentional or accidental. You don’t know who killed her,” explained Caldwell. “As a writer, you have to have authority and you have to show your authority on each page. This wasn’t even a particularly long part of the book; it was sort of an aftermath. I just couldn’t do it justice if I didn’t understand why the cops would get someone to confess to something they didn’t do. I didn’t know if people would buy it.”

She continued: “So I called Catharine O’Daniel, who I highlighted in the book. She’s a superstar criminal defense lawyer in Chicago. She’s a name I decided to call for a research question. I was writing my book in a coffeehouse and needed to double-check my sources before I could push on with this. I asked her, ‘Do false confessions ever happen?’ She laughed and said, ‘Oh, honey, they happen all the time.’ Those are the words that changed my life.”

In late 2004 when O’Daniel was visiting a client at Supermax, Cook County’s maximum security jail in Chicago, unsupervised inmates coming in from exercise cornered her. Before things escalated, inmate Jovan Mosley who was sweeping the floors witnessed this and got the inmates to back off. O’Daniel thanked Mosley and asked him about his case. He told her he’d been in jail for more than five years, awaiting trial for first-degree murder and armed robbery.

O’Daniel took Mosley’s case.

“It was the first pro-bono case (O’Daniel) ever took on,” explained Caldwell.

Caldwell tried Mosley’s case with O’Daniel in what was “definitely the most seminal case I tried.” According to Caldwell, the police arrested Mosley in early 2000 for the 1999 murder of Howard Thomas. There are different versions of what exactly happened to Thomas, whose death was ruled a homicide. Mosley was allegedly one of several young men who brutally beat Thomas. Mosley denied these allegations, but admitted he was present as a witness at the beginning of the crime. The police kept him nearly three days, Caldwell stated. “They said they’d let him go if he confessed to punching the victim in the left eye, which he did. And off he went to county, charged with murder, until (O’Daniel) found him,” said Caldwell.

Caldwell and O’Daniel won Mosley his freedom in 2005. This inspired Caldwell to write “Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost and the Two Women Who Found Him.” Further, Caldwell founded the Life After Innocence clinic at Loyola Law in 2009, working with wrongfully convicted individuals or other innocent persons impacted by the criminal justice system in order to help them re-enter society and reclaim their lives.

Caldwell is editing a collection of essays, “Anatomy of Innocence,” that pairs mystery writers with exonerees. The proceeds will go to the LAI clinic.