The early 1970s were rough on Vermont’s criminal justice system. Central to that era was the long criminal career of Paul Lawrence, the bad cop who, while working as an undercover narcotics agent for state and local police, framed more than 100 young Vermonters on drug charges. Lawrence’s depredations managed to contaminate the whole justice system—state police and several prosecutors and judges—and his crimes and the resulting turmoil put Vermont on front pages across the land.
One public official deeply affected by the Lawrence mess was Kimberly Cheney, a Yale Law School graduate and a Republican, who had just been elected in 1972 as Vermont’s attorney general. Cheney, in his candid memoir A Lawyer’s Life to Live, tells much about his life in Montpelier, Vermont, as attorney general but also, earlier and later, as a small-town private attorney and county prosecutor. He describes all the moral quandaries, deal-making, the courtroom dramas, and the shenanigans that readers would expect from an observant lawyer-turned-author.
But what he also offers is a striking assessment of what became known as the “Paul Lawrence Affair.” Lawrence’s crimes were committed long ago, but Cheney’s book is an important reminder of how things can go wrong. The author is as tough on himself as he is on other players who were far more involved in that affair. That’s a quality that is rare and praiseworthy in the literature of public life.
A Lawyer’s Life to Live: A Memoir by Kim Cheney. Rootstock Publishing, February 2021.
Reviewer bio: Hamilton E. Davis has been a journalist and policy analyst for more than 50 years. He is the author Mocking Justice: America’s Biggest Drug Scandal (Crown Publishers, 1978).
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