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September 20, 2012

Author Michael Connelly Receives Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction

Author Michael Connelly

Author Michael Connelly

The ABA Journal and the University of Alabama School of Law presented best-selling author Michael Connelly with the 2012 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction at an award ceremony at the National Press Club.

Connelly’s legal thriller The Fifth Witness received the second annual prize, which honors a fictional book that best exemplifies the positive role lawyers play in society. The prize is named for the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, who created a lasting legacy with her legal hero Atticus Finch.

“If you’ve asked lawyers what inspired them to attend law school, you will repeatedly hear that they wanted to be a lawyer like Atticus Finch,” said Kenneth Randall, dean of the University of Alabama School of Law, during the award presentation.

Randall said there were 23 nominations for the prize, which were narrowed down to three. Connelly was selected for the Harper Lee Prize from among three finalists, including Robert Dugoni, author of Murder One, and David Ellis, author of Breach of Trust.

The selection committee included former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, Fox News political analyst Juan Williams, and the New York Times best-selling novelists Linda Fairstein and Lisa Scottoline. The public also received one committee vote on the ABA website; 350,000 people voted.

Connelly, formerly a crime beat writer for newspapers in Florida and for the Los Angeles Times, was a finalist for a Pulitzer. He has written and published 24 books. “If I have any creative genius, it’s in my reporting and taking what I report and finding ways to turn it into fiction,” he said.

The Fifth Witness, which hit No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, features a familiar Connelly character: the maverick L.A. lawyer Mickey Haller. Haller, who has fallen on tough times and expanded his business into foreclosure defense, sees one of his clients accused of killing the banker she blames for trying to take away her home. The Fifth Witness is the fourth in a series of books featuring Haller.

Haller is the criminal defense lawyer who operates out of the backseat of his Lincoln Town Car in Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, which became a movie starring Matthew McConaughey in 2011.

The first Harper Lee Prize was given to author John Grisham in 2011 for The Confession.

This year’s award ceremony takes place in conjunction with the 2012 Library of Congress National Book Festival Sept. 22 and 23 on the National Mall. It also included a panel discussion with some members of the selection committee; check back at ABANow.org for more on the panel’s talk comparing To Kill a Mockingbird with The Fifth Witness.

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