Thursday, October 4, 2007

John Grisham and Dennis Fritz Lawsuit - Publisher welcomes libel suit

Seven Locks Press in Santa Ana is small-time, publishing about 25 titles a year. But it has joined big boys Doubleday and Random House, as well as author John Grisham and defense attorney Barry Scheck, as defendants in a defamation lawsuit involving the justice – or rather the in justice – system in the small town of Ada, Okla.

The lawsuit is one of the best things that's ever happened to Seven Locks and its owner, Jim Riordan.

"Quite frankly, when I get to put my name next to Grisham and Random House – I'll take that any day," says Riordan, who I met a few years ago when he was working with Deacon Jones on a charity fundraiser.

At the center of the lawsuit is an Oklahoma prosecutor by the name of William N. Peterson. He got murder convictions on two men who did 12 years in prison before they were cleared by DNA evidence. He also got questionable convictions on two other men in a separate murder case. They are still in prison.

The cases spawned three books: "The Dreams of Ada" by journalist Robert Mayer; "The Innocent Man," the first non-fiction book by author Grisham; and "Journey Toward Justice," by Dennis Fritz, who was one of the wrongly convicted men. To varying degrees, the books are critical of Peterson, who has been the elected district attorney for 27 years.

Seven Locks is Fritz's publisher. The first editions of the Grisham and Fritz books and an updated version of Mayer's were all published within weeks of each other last fall. Book tours and publicity ensued. Even Fritz, the least-known writer with the smallest house, got on "Dateline," "Hannity and Colmes" and other national shows. In Oklahoma, Peterson seethed.

Last Friday, Peterson and a detective who worked on the Fritz case sued the publishers, the authors and attorney Scheck, who represented Fritz, wrote the foreward for Fritz's book and wrote about the case in his own book, "Actual Innocence." Grisham had also provided a cover blurb for Fritz.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges civil conspiracy, libel, placing a person in a false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Peterson says the defendants "coordinated their efforts to launch a massive joint defamatory attack" on him and the detective.

"There's no merit," to the suit, Riordan says. The reason his book published two days before Grisham's was competitive.

By rights, Riordan says, Fritz's book should have gone to a major publishing house, but with Grisham's in the works at Random, no one else wanted to touch it. So, Riordan says, he bought it on the condition that it would be finished in time to compete with Grisham's, not complement it.

You tell from his voice that Riordan is as emotionally invested in Fritz's story as he is financially. He talks about how when Fritz finally got out of jail in 1999, he went to a motel and was puzzled when they wouldn't give him a key – just a piece of plastic that resembled a credit card. And how when he went to a gas station, no attendant came out to wait on him.

"That's what losing 12 years does to you," Riordan says.

I read "The Dreams of Ada." In about three days. In most true-crime books you're scared of the defendants. In this one, you're scared of the prosecutor. I have "Journey Toward Justice" on deck. It's sold about 35,000 copies so far, the fastest-selling book in Seven Lock's 30-year history. The lawsuit will only help.

read more Orange Countrys News Source FRANK MICKADEIT
Register columnist

UPDATE SEPT. 2008 CASE DISMISSED Grisham - Fritz - Mayer - Scheck Lawsuit
Click here for update

1 comment:

Terry said...

Bill Peterson, the prosecutor's response? "I did the best I could with the available evidence." Well, that settles it. After all, it's really all about the prosecutor feeling good about himself, and if some innocent guy has to spend 12 years in prison, so what.