November 18, 2010
Reflecting on the work of a larger-than-life persona can be tricky,
as Paulette Frankl learned when she set out to write "Lust for
Justice: The Radical Life and Law of J. Tony Serra." The book is a
collection of court documents, anecdotes and Frankl's courtroom art,
all designed to give readers a better sense of the famed San
Francisco defense attorney.
Frankl was inspired to begin the ambitious project nearly two decades ago.
"(Serra) invited me to draw the Ellie Nesler case, which was the
first big case that he invited me to attend," she says. "I was so
blown away by the amount of media attention and people and just the
size and the scale of the thing."
It wasn't just the case that impressed Frankl - it was also Serra's
courtroom performance. She found it hard to believe that despite
Serra's fame as a lawyer, mostly in regards to his electric behavior
and high-profile civil rights cases (Serra defended members of the
Black Panthers, Hells Angels and Symbionese Liberation Army), no one
had written his story.
"I said, 'Well, let's do one - your words, my art,' " says Frankl,
who spent 17 years on the project. "So we scribbled out an agreement
on the hood of my car in the parking lot, and that was it. We were
kind of off and running."
The art is, of course, a large part of "Lust for Justice." Frankl
freelanced as a courtroom artist but decided early in her career that
she wanted to focus primarily on Serra.
"I felt if I could end up doing justice to him, I would feel I had
arrived as an artist," she says. "He was archetypal energy. I had to
develop my own style that showed him in action, because that's what
he is in the courtroom."
In writing "Lust for Justice," Frankl was given unprecedented access
to a man who often keeps himself out of the public eye. She describes
him as "both very gracious, generous, bighearted, and unbelievably
But despite the occasional tension, Frankl learned a lot throughout
the process. Though she admits law isn't her forte, she remains
fascinated by Serra and the cases he's chosen. "Lust for Justice"
should appeal to everyone, regardless of a background in law, she says.
"I find legalese unbearably boring," Frankl says. "I wrote (the book)
so that it would have a message for everyone, and it does."
5 p.m. Sat. Fort Mason, Room C-370, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.
Also 1 p.m. Sun. Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia St. (415)
Louis Peitzman, firstname.lastname@example.org