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The Districts: Justice and Power in New York City

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An unprecedented plunge into New York City's federal court system that gives us a revelatory picture of how our justice system, and the pursuit of justice, really works. A young Italian Mafioso helps get rid of a body in Queens. In Manhattan, a hedge fund portfolio manager misrepresents his company's assets to investors. At JFK International Airport, a college student retur An unprecedented plunge into New York City's federal court system that gives us a revelatory picture of how our justice system, and the pursuit of justice, really works. A young Italian Mafioso helps get rid of a body in Queens. In Manhattan, a hedge fund portfolio manager misrepresents his company's assets to investors. At JFK International Airport, a college student returns from Jamaica with cocaine stuffed in the handle of her suitcase. These are just a few of the stories that come to life in this comprehensive look at the Southern District Court in Manhattan, and the Eastern District Court in Brooklyn--the two federal courts tasked with maintaining order in New York City. Johnny Dwyer takes us not just into the courtrooms but into the lives of those who enter through its doors: the judges and attorneys, prosecutors and defendants, winners and losers. He examines crimes we've read about in the papers or seen in movies and television--organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, corruption, and white-collar crime--and weaves in the nuances that rarely make it into headlines. Brimming with detail and drama, The Districts illuminates the meaning of intent, of reasonable doubt, of deception, and--perhaps most importantly of all--of justice.


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An unprecedented plunge into New York City's federal court system that gives us a revelatory picture of how our justice system, and the pursuit of justice, really works. A young Italian Mafioso helps get rid of a body in Queens. In Manhattan, a hedge fund portfolio manager misrepresents his company's assets to investors. At JFK International Airport, a college student retur An unprecedented plunge into New York City's federal court system that gives us a revelatory picture of how our justice system, and the pursuit of justice, really works. A young Italian Mafioso helps get rid of a body in Queens. In Manhattan, a hedge fund portfolio manager misrepresents his company's assets to investors. At JFK International Airport, a college student returns from Jamaica with cocaine stuffed in the handle of her suitcase. These are just a few of the stories that come to life in this comprehensive look at the Southern District Court in Manhattan, and the Eastern District Court in Brooklyn--the two federal courts tasked with maintaining order in New York City. Johnny Dwyer takes us not just into the courtrooms but into the lives of those who enter through its doors: the judges and attorneys, prosecutors and defendants, winners and losers. He examines crimes we've read about in the papers or seen in movies and television--organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, corruption, and white-collar crime--and weaves in the nuances that rarely make it into headlines. Brimming with detail and drama, The Districts illuminates the meaning of intent, of reasonable doubt, of deception, and--perhaps most importantly of all--of justice.

30 review for The Districts: Justice and Power in New York City

  1. 4 out of 5

    Khris Sellin

    The Districts is a 360 view of different cases that wind their way through the federal courts of NYC — the Eastern District and Southern District of NY. Since I work in the Southern District as a court reporter (stenographer) and have a front-row seat to some of these high-profile cases, I was interested to learn what the author had to say. I found it fascinating. He obviously did extensive research to not only give us a dry account of the cases and facts and figures, but also getting personal ( The Districts is a 360 view of different cases that wind their way through the federal courts of NYC — the Eastern District and Southern District of NY. Since I work in the Southern District as a court reporter (stenographer) and have a front-row seat to some of these high-profile cases, I was interested to learn what the author had to say. I found it fascinating. He obviously did extensive research to not only give us a dry account of the cases and facts and figures, but also getting personal (when he could) with all the players involved. He had a few pages describing a couple of our judges, which were spot on and very enjoyable to read. I’m not sure if an “outsider” would enjoy it as much. But he did cover a variety of cases and I think gives a great little primer on how our justice system works (or doesn’t) for those who’d like to know.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zack

    Goodreads Giveaway - You remember those old Law & Order TV shows, how they'd show the lawyers leveraging, debating, and cutting deals. This books takes that premise and dives much deep into the process, the people, and the locations involved. It's was fascinating to learn how different and distinct the Eastern and Southern districts of New York are from each other. An example of this is an aphorism used in the book in reference to the cases surrounding terrorist suspects: The Eastern District ge Goodreads Giveaway - You remember those old Law & Order TV shows, how they'd show the lawyers leveraging, debating, and cutting deals. This books takes that premise and dives much deep into the process, the people, and the locations involved. It's was fascinating to learn how different and distinct the Eastern and Southern districts of New York are from each other. An example of this is an aphorism used in the book in reference to the cases surrounding terrorist suspects: The Eastern District gets them before the bomb goes off, the Southern gets them after. Each of the sections focus on a different type of criminal sector and tells an exemplary story of a case, using a variety of perspectives (lawyers, judge, juror, etc.) for each. This book doesn't spend much time dwelling on the law, but focuses on the application of the law in a courtroom and impacts this has on the defendants, litigants, the state, and society. If you're a legal thriller fan, you'll like how this book provides real-world perspectives. And of course, if you like true-crime, this is right up your alley.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    3.5 Despite having grown up near the Eastern and Southern District Courts of New York, I never understood exactly what it was they did or why they were important. Their operations rely equally on historical legal precedent, laws currently on the books, and current events all over the New york Metropolitan area, and I was not familiar with any of those pillars. Johnny Dwyer seems to be. In this book,  he contextualizes the law, and he does so beautiflly. His writing is captivating. The Districts i 3.5 Despite having grown up near the Eastern and Southern District Courts of New York, I never understood exactly what it was they did or why they were important. Their operations rely equally on historical legal precedent, laws currently on the books, and current events all over the New york Metropolitan area, and I was not familiar with any of those pillars. Johnny Dwyer seems to be. In this book,  he contextualizes the law, and he does so beautiflly. His writing is captivating. The Districts is easy to read without ever feeling simplistic. His sentences flow easily, and he creates not just a series of facts, but a narrative.  The Districts is broken into five parts, each dealing with a different type of crime. The longest of these is the section on terrorism while the strongest is probably that dealing with white collar crime. Each section follows a single case over the course of several chapters. Dwyer punctuates that case with information regarding the defendant, the prosecutors, the judge, and relevant prior cases that inform the reader's understanding of what is going on.  To use the example of organized crime: first the reader meets the players who will eventually become defendants. After telling us about their early career as wiseguys, Dwyer gives the history of RICO, an act passed during that early career that allowed prosecutors to charge organized crime bosses. Readers then meet some of the first prosecutors to take advantage of RICO, who in turn mentor other lawyers. The mentees appear as judges in the case of the original wiseguys, who, now that we are back in the present, are being charged. It's a clear setup. We are introduced to the characters, their history, the history of their adversaries, and the final clash between them. Drama really does unfold in the courtroom.  The structure is not without flaws. I personally think it breaks down a little in the section on Terrorism, which combines the complexities of FBI surveillance, charging criminals, and international cooperation and extradition. I found that Dwyer failed to successfully elucidate this sphere of crime, but I had bigger bones to pick with him. My biggest gripe, and the reason why I can't whole-heartedly give this book four stars, is that I can't believe Dwyer gave us as unbiased an account of the Eastern and Southern Districts as he could. He claims that the book's premise is "that the true measure of the justice within a society can be discovered by stepping into its courts" (12), but it seems to me he has this secondary assertion. He implies that the justice in our courts is flawed because of the power imbalance between prosecutor and defender. Dwyer reveals our government's history of charging individuals while side-stepping their own moral dilemmas. Time after time we see the government search records without a warrant to use that information in terrorist cases. We see a government charge criminals with secondary crimes after those criminals have received a not-guilty verdict in an earlier trial. We see a government pursue heavy sentences for some defendants while trading prison time to corporations in exchange  for guilty pleas. At the same time, Dwyer tends to have pronounced opinions on the defendants in his chosen cases. He seems to favor younger defendants. In a drug courier case, he describes the teenage defendant Chevelle Nesbeth as looking  "minimized and harmless" (109). Contrast that with his coverage of former hedge-fund-worker Stefan Lumiere, whose "brief, unsuccessful career" (133) Dwyer discusses at length. Or take Jason Thorell, who, by the author's assessment" lack[ed] the moral strength to refuse to go along with a conspiracy" (171). The difference in treatment from Dwyer implies that his sympathies lie with one party but not with the other. The description he gives to each witness obfuscates the fact that they are not simply harmless or feckless Dwyer characters but are instead real, complex individuals whose very complexity led to their trials in the first place. Dwyer's simplistic humanization undermines his own credibility in some ways. Still, the presence of humanization at all is what makes this book so readable. Dwyer's pursuit of a personal connection with his subjects may be overzealous, but it accomplishes an important goal. With it, we readers can form our own connection with an entity that otherwise seems inaccessible or irrelevant to our daily lives. While he may not successfully show us the justice inside the courts' walls, he gives us a reason to  knock on the door.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Samarth Gupta

    Review here: https://twitter.com/SamarthGuptaMA/st.... I really enjoyed this book and didn't want to put it down. The stories from the Southern District of NY and Eastern District of NY courts are wild, entertaining, and make one question their own views of justice through the law. It's also wild to just see the career histories of people like Rudy Giuliani and Jim Comey as prosecutors. So many big names went through these courts and made their names there. ________________________________________ Review here: https://twitter.com/SamarthGuptaMA/st.... I really enjoyed this book and didn't want to put it down. The stories from the Southern District of NY and Eastern District of NY courts are wild, entertaining, and make one question their own views of justice through the law. It's also wild to just see the career histories of people like Rudy Giuliani and Jim Comey as prosecutors. So many big names went through these courts and made their names there. _______________________________________________________ “To land the job is not a contest of intellect alone. It falls on judgment and temperament. A prosecutor needs to be comfortable with making decisions that carry the power to deprive people of their freedom. But a prosecutor should not relish this. It is a unique responsibility that follows from a unique type of power. The lowest-level federal prosecutor—the Assistant U.S. Attorney—enjoys some of the broadest authority in the government and is subject to the least amount of outside oversight. The power of an AUSA in the Southern District of New York, defined both by its jurisdiction and by its independence from Washington, belongs in a category unto itself.” “In 2017, 94 percent of federal criminal cases never went to trial. ” “The other pivotal moment in their lives came not in Ozone Park but in Washington, where Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute—or RICO—in 1970. RICO gave prosecutors a tool that they had lacked: a law that allowed the justice system to connect the crimes committed on the street by low-level gangsters to the bosses who organized and benefited from the activity. ” “Several forces converged to make this power shift possible. In 1968, Congress laid the legal foundation with legislation sponsored by Robert Kennedy, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Wiretaps and other electronic surveillance methods, which Title III of the act authorized, gave agents a tool to finally penetrate crime families and produce evidence. The witness protection program, created under the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, enabled prosecutors to promise safety to witnesses who had reason to fear retaliation. ” “Each year Customs intercepted on average more than 61 tons of narcotics landing at the airport—nearly 340 pounds each day. ” “In 2011, buried deep in the National Defense Authorization Act, Republicans opposed to the Obama administration’s intent to criminally charge those involved in the September 11 attacks inserted a provision that made the transfer of military detainees onto U.S. soil illegal. The Obama administration viewed the maneuver as a power grab, depriving the president of the ability to pursue a key policy objective—and campaign promise—of closing Guantánamo. A decade after the attacks, the question of venue in terrorism cases—which was legal in nature—became a political one.” “The moment was sad and imperfect. It left the unsettling sense that this may, in fact, be what justice looks like.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marilyn Katz

    Thank you Goodreads, for my copy of this book. I really enjoyed reading about the different cases covered in the book. Although I read the newspaper every day, Mr Dwyer was able to expand my understanding of both the workings of the Districts in New York and the people that make them powerful. The book reads like a who's who from the headlines, but the additional material made each person real and so human.I learned a lot about the city I'm from as well. Did I expect to love this book? Not really, Thank you Goodreads, for my copy of this book. I really enjoyed reading about the different cases covered in the book. Although I read the newspaper every day, Mr Dwyer was able to expand my understanding of both the workings of the Districts in New York and the people that make them powerful. The book reads like a who's who from the headlines, but the additional material made each person real and so human.I learned a lot about the city I'm from as well. Did I expect to love this book? Not really, but did I ever!

  6. 5 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    A wonderful deep dive into the federal district courts of NYC. He takes you through the evolution of how they came to be and the cases that flow through the courts today, all seen through the judges, prosecutors, defenders, defendants and even a jury member. Fascinating and lively as you could ever want.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

    A super interesting and detailed look into the federal court system in NYC. Johnny gives you an inside look at a system we all hear about everyday but most people likely know very little about. It’s approachable and easy to digest, since it’s mostly case studies. If you’re curious about the justice system but get overwhelmed by the jargon, this book is right up your alley.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Csimplot Simplot

    Excellent book!!!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mary Nee

    A very interesting book about the federal district courts of NYC. Worth the read!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andy Stubbs

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Green

  13. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

  14. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sixto

  16. 4 out of 5

    Claire

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jodi

  18. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mateo

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mackenzi Siebert

  23. 4 out of 5

    ReadMoreBooks

  24. 5 out of 5

    Craig Ryan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cariné Megerian

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mickey Donovan

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  29. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Cheresnick

  30. 4 out of 5

    Meg Vanderkamp

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