The Defense Lawyer: The Barry Slotnick Story (Little Brown) is the newest book from bestselling, prolific author James Patterson and his co-writer Benjamin Wallace. The ripped-from-the-headlines biography chronicles the life of famed New York defense attorney, Barry Slotnick. The now 83-year-old criminal lawyer has represented mafia dons like John Gotti and Joe Colombo in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, and casino magnate Steve Wynn. “Every year, someone would call my father’s office saying ‘I want to write your father’s book,’” says his son and fellow New York lawyer Stuart Slotnick (the father-son team represented Melania Trump to hammer out her prenuptial agreement with Donald Trump). “And, for one reason or another, it would never happen. They would express interest and then just disappear. But then, in late 2018, someone called who actually knew author James Patterson and he took the idea out to Patterson directly. We were open to having the story told for years but it just never happened.” So, in 2019, the Slotnicks sat down with Patterson and his team to discuss how to bring this storied career to life on the page. “Patterson really liked my father’s stories,” says Slotnick. “He liked the fact that these stories are very New York City-centric and, at the time, these were the biggest cases in the world. He was particularly impressed by my father’s record of winning trials and going undefeated for 12 years running.” Once the deal was done, Patterson and his team worked tirelessly researching Slotnick’s history and his cases. “His researchers were reading John Gotti trial transcripts at the Library of Congress, legal papers and transcripts and interviewing former adversaries and judges. It was a tremendous amount of work.”
DuJour caught up with Stuart Slotnick on the occasion of the book’s publication to discuss his father’s lasting legacy.
What has the feedback been on the book so far?
People are loving it. Everyone of a certain age remembers these stories and people are enjoying going back in time to remember these cases.
Have you been able to read or listen to the book together since its publication?
My mother, father and I listened to the book together over the holidays. My father was commenting as we were listening to it. Giving first hand commentary on what was happening in the book at that moment in time. It was great to sit there and listen to it with them and I’m sure for my mother as well since she lived through it all.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from him?
The one thing he wanted to pass onto his kids is to be a decent person. To be kind and honest. He got that from his parents, both of whom were immigrants. When my father was growing up in New York, he lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his sister, his parents and grandparents. He slept on a couch for years of his life. Later on, he saw tremendous success and was celebrated as a great lawyer. But he’s always been an honest, decent person.
What’s the best advice he’s given you along the way?
The best advice he gave me is to listen. My first job was as a prosecutor. He said to me ‘listen to the defense attorneys and you may learn something you didn’t know. You’ll be more prepared for trial.’ Also to treat people with respect and afford them the opportunity to hear them out.
In your mind, what is his greatest professional accomplishment?
Obviously, winning impossible cases to win. He had many other courtroom victories but he was a decent, honest lawyer. People thought of him as a killer but when people met him, they were so surprised to see that he was a gentle, calm and thoughtful man. A killer in the courtroom but not in an aggressive, mean way. He thought through cases and strategies and he knew how to implement them and how to win.