Monday, October 17, 2016

Wendi Adelson's criminally lousy novel, "This is Our Story"





A former Florida State law professor named Wendi Adelson is in the public spotlight because members of her family have been implicated (though so far uncharged) in hiring a pair of hitmen to kill her ex-husband, a fellow Florida State law professor and prominent legal blogger named Daniel Markel.   

According to her CV, Adelson obtained her first academic job in 2006, the same year she graduated from law school, as a Staff Attorney/Clinical Fellow at the University of Miami Center for Ethics and Public Service. In 2007, she moved on to the position of Program Director of Florida State Law's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, and became a Directing Clinical Professor in 2010. 

How did Adelson nab faculty posts fresh out of law school, leading to a Florida State law professorship only a few years later? It probably did not hurt that she graduated cum laude from the University of Miami, indisputably a praiseworthy accomplishment. It also probably did not hurt that in 2005, while still a law student, she married Markel, a Florida State lawprof. (This blog has covered the blight of spousal hiring in legal academia).

A few months ago, Above the Law published recordings of Adelson’s presentations to a writer’s workshop, held some time after Markel’s murder. Adelson complained, inter alia, that her “late ex-spouse” (a phrase Adelson creatively punned as her “latex spouse”) did not care for fiction  and did not read her book. (Podcast, 9:42-9:47, 10:28-10:33) I found this plaint to be unfair because, whatever his private misgivings, Markel extensively promoted Adelson’s debut novel, “This is Our Story” on his popular academic blog “Prawfsblawg.” (The novel was published in 2011, about a year before Adelson walked out on Markel, with infant children, bank accounts, furniture, and Markel family heirlooms in tow).

In spite of the intense publicity generated by the lurid murder mystery starring herself, I do not believe anyone has yet explored Adelson’s novel as a possible window into the self-perception of its enigmatic author.

Even at the risk of death by Prius-driving hitman, I am compelled to endorse the latex Markel’s decision not to read his wife's novel. This is Our Story is inartful, shallow, clichéd, oddly bland given its human trafficking theme, and terribly self-important. Interestingly though, Adelson states that her book purports to tell, in substantial part, her own story. In an afterword to her novel, Adelson states that “I, selfishly, wanted you to know a bit about my story, which has much – but not all – in common with Attorney Lily” (i.e. the main character in the novel). Adelson, Wendi (2011-09-12). This is Our Story (Kindle Locations 3948-3949). Kindle Edition.

This is Our Story consists of three first-person narratives, that of the aforementioned young female lawyer Lily Stone nee Walker, and those of two of Lily’s clients, Rosa Hernandez from Jujuy, Argentina, and Mila Gulej from Bratislava, both lured to the U.S. under fraudulent work or work-study programs, and then subjected to forced labor as well as to physical and sexual abuse. Mila and Rosa are “composite characters” embodying “many of the stories” of Adelson’s clients. (Kindle Location 3945)

There are 46 chapters in the book, each of which is entitled “Mila,” “Lily,” or “Rosa”. The structure of Adelson’s novel consists of a chapter entitled “Lily” and narrated by Lily, followed by a chapter entitled “Mila” and narrated by Mila, followed by a chapter entitled “Rosa” and consisting of entries from Rosa’s diary. The chapters follow in strict Mila-Lily-Rosa order, with the single unaccountable exception of a Lily-Mila-Lily sequence at Chapters 30-32.

In the novel, Lily, a lawyer in her early thirties, gives up a thriving corporate practice in DC to follow her seemingly bright and sweet, if exasperatingly blunder-prone, new husband Josh Stone to “this Godforsaken place”—namely, “North Florida State University” in “Hiawassee Springs,” where Josh holds a professorship. Unfortunately, Josh installs Lily in what he describes as an “adorable, cozy” country house that he has just rented without realizing that the place is infested with cockroaches. Lily overcomes her disgust at her new digs and the boredom of small town life by hooking up with a nonprofit and becoming a pro bono immigration attorney specializing in helping trafficked women, the only one in a 300-mile radius.

You would think that the tales of Mila and Rosa would be emotionally harrowing. However, the Lily chapters are written with a bite that is lacking in the Rosa and Mila chapters, even though the narrative of a neophyte immigration lawyer adjusting unhappily to married life would seem less naturally compelling than those of two young women seeking to escape from an intercontinental sex slave ring. Mila comes off as vain and disconnected, while Rosa is devout, innocent, and sweet to the point of mental deficiency. Both are endlessly gullible and stupid, thus easy prey for the novel's collection of exploitative villains.

The Lily chapters are notable for the character’s increasing contempt for her husband. Lily criticizes Josh for his short stature (“He is my same height, which is something I had never considered pre-Joshua, because I had already determined that my dating window extended only from 6 foot two to 6 foot 4”), his pouting, his habit of calling her “Lilybillygoat” under the misimpression that it is endearing, his insincerity in asking what she wants him to make for dinner when he had already begun preparing spaghetti and pasta sauce (“I think dinner’s going to be really good, sweetie. . . Josh looked really proud of himself, like he just climbed an icy mountain in winter time instead of preparing a simple meal like I do for him every single night”), and his stupid career advice, often delivered in the infuriatingly triumphant tone of someone who “had just invented a solution to global warming.” But Lily especially resents her husband’s constant pressure for children, which Lily herself finds perplexing in that she wants children too.

I think Donald Trump would enjoy this novel, a rarity for a text written by an academic do-gooder who supports migrant rights and bristles at the term “illegals.” The numerous villains of the novel are pretty much all Latino males, and all are such sleazy, swaggering, sadistic, treacherous, violent and gangsterish pimps and molesters that one would think they came from the imaginings of a paranoid nativist. 

For instance, one macho baddie, “Carlos,” snarls at Mila, and I quote, “Chico tellz me you are prosteetutes, jes?. . .  Well, you still owe Chico a lot of money, Mila. You and your friend here can work off your debt togeder. You weel start tonight. And don’t eben theenk ov trying to get away, seelly Mila. Ju know I weel find you whereber you go.” [sic] (Kindle Locations 2355-2357)

Doesn’t that mocking pidgin caricature of Spanish-inflected English sound a bit racist?  Oh, don’t be seelly, for our heroine purports to share the same cultural identity. In Chapter 32, the pale-faced protagonist decides, for no apparent reason, to reconnect with her Spanish ancestry on her maternal grandmother’s side, even though she had “never really identified as being part-Latina, given my translucent skin, reddish hair, and the fact that no one ever guessed that I was Hispanic.” (Kindle Locations 2850-2851) Lily joins a spirited local female Hispanic encounter group to “discuss our common Latina heritage” and is enthusiastically accepted by the old ladies in the group as family, I mean as familia.  

Mila and Rosa are eventually rescued by Lily and the John Wayne-esque local sheriff she teams up with (an inarticulate but courageous aw-shucks-ma'am white savior dude who comes complete with leathery sun-toughened skin, big cowboy hat, and service in ‘Nam). Lily utilizes her legal skills, resourcefulness, and deep humanity to counsel the women, obtain shelter and asylum on their behalf, and reunite Rosa with her family. In turn, Mila, Rosa, and Lily’s other clients treat their “Attorney Lily” with worshipful awe, showering her with humble yet heartfelt gifts, such as homemade enchiladas and a teddy bear with angel wings and painted green eyes "to look like me."

In the final chapter of the novel, Lily adopts a baby that Mila conceives post-rescue and then abandons. (Even after all that Mila has been through, she still wants to pursue her dreams of Hollywood stardom).  Lily only informs her husband of the adoption after the fact. Though, as noted, Josh badly wanted children, Lily informs him that she adopted the kid in her maiden name and did not want him in her or her child's lives.
As I peered through the smudged glass on the door I could see that Josh had already arrived, shaggy hair and slim shoulders slumped over his book. “Same old Josh,” I thought to myself, surprised and saddened that I didn’t feel much of anything when I looked at him. 
* * *  
“So, she’s yours now, officially?” he asked.   
“Yes, name changed and all.”   
“Anna Stone?   
“No, Josh. Anna Walker, like her mom.” 
I said the last sentence slowly, and with as much kindness as I could muster. Josh and I had separated, but we hadn’t talked about anything official yet, like name changes or divorce. “Josh, I am going to change my last name back to Walker, once we’ve finalized…” 
“So, that’s it, Lily? It’s over, and I don’t even get a say?” He looked equal parts sad and combative. I tried to be gentle. . . 
I reached across the table to take his hands in mine, but he pulled them away and folded his arms defiantly instead. I took a breath and tried again, “Josh, my life is going in a different direction now, and Anna and me, well, we have to forge our own path. I hope, with time...” 
“You hope what, Lily?” Josh had venom in his voice and tears in his eyes, “You hope we can still be friends? Please don’t even…” Josh grabbed his hooded grey sweatshirt from the back of his chair and fled the diner, wiping his eyes with his forearm on his way out. 
(Kindle Locations, 3904-3932)  

My interpretation of the breakup scene is that author Wendi Adelson was signaling through her fiction that she not only wanted to divorce Markel, but that she also wanted him out of the lives of her kids. The naming question in the novel foreshadows Adelson's real life behavior, post murder, in changing her children's surnames from Markel to Adelson and removing the middle name of one son because it referenced Markel's deceased grandmother.

I think it is also likely that Adelson wrote the novel in order to promote herself as the public face of the morally unimpeachable cause of female antislavery, notwithstanding her lack of literary talent, her relatively meager academic credentials, and her relative inexperience as a practicing lawyer. This is Our Story was chosen as featured reading for the thousands of incoming freshmen at Florida State, and was also enthusiastically profiled in the Florida Bar News

In this vein, Adelson stated, in her interview with the Florida Bar News and in the novel itself, that her purpose in writing the novel was to encourage kids to go to law school and become public interest attorneys like herself. In the author’s afterword, Adelson declares her hope that “if you are one of those lucky people who has the luxury to spend many years focused on higher education, you will think about law school, and you will consider spending your life as an advocate for those whose voices have been taken from them. I wouldn’t be half the attorney, or person, that I am today without having met people like “Rosa” and “Mila,” and so many of my other clients, whose stories I can’t share with you.” (Kindle Locations, 3949-3952)  

The obvious drawback to Adelson's career advice is the stiff competition for entry-level public interest law jobs, sometimes from persons with structural or insider advantages, such as coming from a wealthy family or being married to a law professor. Aside from which, I do not think that even the most zealous law school recruitment tout would be inclined to recommend law school in order to follow the life path of Wendi Adelson.

In the novel, Lily’s heroic work is obstructed by a clueless and condescending husband whom she has outgrown. Hubby Josh whines and snivels, but ultimately accepts his marching orders. However, discarding Josh’s real-life model seems to have been a messier proposition. 


55 comments:

  1. Apparently, public pretenders who marry well and then become "law professors" can still write in a juvenile manner. Could you imagine reading 46 chapters of that tripe?!

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  2. Can't wait to see when the bottom drops out on the Adelson family. You have to wonder how they thought they were going to get away with this!

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  3. Curious about this. As I understand, Wendi and her entire family couldn't stand Dan Markel, especially her brother and her mother.

    So the connection is this, right?

    Wendi Adelson has a brother. His name is Charlie. Charlie was in a serious relationship with a woman called Katherine Magbanua. There is documented evidence that Magbanua knew the assassins, and that Magbanua received payments from the Adelson dental practice after the assassination. The assassins also spent large sums of money shortly after the assassination. It appears like there is a fairly tight case against the two assassins as well.

    I gather that the divorce was really quite acrimonious, even for divorces, and that the Adelson family did everything they could to separate Dan from his kids. So now the lynchpin for tying the Adelson family to Dan's murder is this Katherine woman.

    Have I about got it right? That said, I think Wendi has great lips. I think she's probably a sociopath, but still.... Great lips.

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    1. Her lips are fake. Full of injectable filler. Compare wendi's mug shot to earlier photos. One of the many false qualities of that nepharious woman.

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  4. Friend of Dan's. Immeasurable loss. I hope justice catches up with Wendi and the Adelsons.

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    1. I am sorry for your loss. I believe there will be justice for Dan yet, and that it will be meted out all the way down to Wendi, the instigator.

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  5. Fascinating post. As an avid follower of the Markel/Adelson saga who hasn't and won't read the book, I really appreciate you doing the heavy lifting and reporting back on it. The semi-autobiographical details and your analysis of them seems both dead on and tragic. Especially with name changings, etc.

    She seems to have made some poor life choices that led to a whole mess of trouble for everyone, Dan Markel especially.

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  6. Bravura! Excellent work again by dybbuk. I can't imagine reading this tripe and also want to thank dybbuk for making this sacrifice. I too have been following this story very closely and anonymous at 11:41AM has the basics down right.

    as dybbuk alluded, no analysis of Wendi's potential role is complete without listening to the audio of that writer's workshop. she can barely disguise her contempt for Markel, even months after his tragic death. the comments she makes there must be read together with the semi-autobiographical details in her novel.

    I've obviously never met Wendi, but she reminds me a LOT of the Kathleen Turner character in War of the Roses. recall that Kathleen harbored absolute hatred for a man who had never cheated on her, never beat her or the kids, and did his best to provide her with a decent middle class living. she just woke up one day regretting that she had married him

    please note that my analogy is not perfect because the Adelsons were married for only about 5 years while the Turner and Douglas characters had children in college. but the general point remains: for some inexplicable reason, a woman wished her husband dead.

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  7. Hiring a pair of hitmen to rub out one's ex-spouse is more than just a "poor life choice," if we're being honest here.

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  8. A few observations:

    1. The “blue” eyeball on the front: terrible photoshop there. The family can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to kill Dan (using his estate to pay for their legal fees now, I’m sure) but can’t get someone more skilled than a 3rd grader to design a book cover? More meaningful perhaps is Wendi’s perception that her eyes are never quite blue enough. Any forensic psychologists out there to mull on that one? Strike that. If there are any forensic psychologists out there, they have more to chew on in the Wendi department than her fake eyes.

    2. When Wendi’s book first came out – while Dan was promoting it actively and boasting of his wife’s good work – the back cover bio excluded her husband, mentioning only her kids. If only he had taken the plot line and the exclusion of himself from her bio as a warning sign for what she’d do 1 year and then 3 years later.

    3. Who was the “Sheriff” character based on? Sounds a lot like State Attorney Willie Meggs.

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  9. Please be careful not to make unfounded accusations. As Dybbuk said, members of Adelson's family have been implicated in the hiring of hit men but have not yet been charged, still less convicted.

    It is fair to say that the matter seems suspicious, particularly in light of an admittedly autobiographical piece of shiterature that apparently recapitulates the relationship and its dénouement. It is not fair, however, to conclude from the available facts that Adelson or her relatives had a hand in the murder.

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    1. It has Sheldon Adelson written all over it, to be honest.

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    2. Yes, we can infer from her actions and this semi-autobiographical book that she is a vapid narcissistic gold-digger, a poor lawyer and a bad author, but we can't declare her a murderer yet. Not until a court rules her guilty.

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    3. Pretty sure she's not a gold digger. She comes from a very wealthy family. She married a man who by all means appears to have been a humble academic of modest taste.

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    4. "She married a man who by all means appears to have been a humble academic of modest taste."

      But who was able to get her a job as a law professor, despite having graduated from a mediocre law school.

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    5. Imagining The Open ToadOctober 19, 2016 at 6:47 PM

      Law prof spousal job handouts (especially for more minor positions like clinical associate profs) are pretty common.

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    6. Agreed. People are convicting Wendi on blogs. It is a far cry to go from wanting her pest of a husband out of her life to being involved in the commissioning of a hit man. Her family looks guilty but let's wait till the evidence is in. Maybe Katie Magbanua took it upon herself to try to please bf Charlie and then shook the Adelson's down for money since they looked guilty anyway based on the connection to her.

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    7. ...but for the hitman implicating Wendi. She's certainly guilty of being a shitty writer.

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    8. Charlie certainly had his sleazy hands in this. Here's a guy who was nearly kicked out of his Dental School. He was banished from his own Periodontal Clinic and was asked not to attend the Graduation Ceremonies. This guy is bad news by every account and the family is a bunch of whackos.

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    9. @Anonymous at 1:39 AM: where did you get your information about Charlie Adelson? There is another brother, as well, who reportedly lives in upstate New York, far away from the rest of the family.

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  10. Fine work, Dybbuk, as usual. You must have a strong stomach to be able to read the pretentious and asinine shiterature that comes out of legal hackademia.

    On the racial front, note the name Lily—an unsubtle reference to white purity.

    Pro bono law may be a fine option for the idle rich and the amply connected, but it's not so practical for those of us peons who (gasp!) have to make a living.

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  11. Look to the sunny side of life. This is the big rock candy mountain for a lot of criminal defense lawyers. WORK, FEES, CLIENTS!!!!! Get out of those LeSabres with the exposed primer.

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  12. Damn she actually wrote the accents into the dialogue. Markel was a prince for promoting that garbage.

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  13. But. . . But . . . Brian Leiter implied that Paul Campos was at fault, and that a scam blog participant could killed Markel! How dare you peons question his judgement!

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  14. Wendi makes it sound as though she has been a real force in working with the Rosa's and the Mila's of the world, the "many stories". Does anyone know if any real stories of this nature, not this composite work?

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    1. You mean, is sex-trafficking real? Yes. Next question.

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    2. Yes. And she really worked with people in these situations.

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  15. "This Is Our Story"—is that the royal plural, or is she referring to a unified group of characters in her shitty book?

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  16. "The obvious drawback to Adelson's career advice is the stiff competition for entry-level public interest law jobs, sometimes from persons with structural or insider advantages, such as coming from a wealthy family or being married to a law professor."

    Like others, I've taken an interest in this case. It's a pretty ghastly situation, so I guess it's no surprise that the law school scam somehow intersects with it. Overtures to enroll in law school in order to serve the public interest are the apex of the scam - there are few decent paying jobs in this arena and they tend to only go to the the top tier students. Wendi needed to marry into her job at FSU and when she moved to Miami, she even actively sought and achieved a stable clerkship.

    Sad that she wrote a whole book with the intention of encouraging wayward souls into this poor academic and career choice. Of course, if the other allegations prove to be true, this won't exactly be the worst of her crimes.

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  17. Imagining The Open ToadOctober 19, 2016 at 10:50 AM

    Um, guys? In case you haven't seen it, Arizona Scumwit's 2016 bar results are in.

    Drumroll.....

    First timers.... 24.6% (18 of 73)
    Repeaters....... 15.4% (13 of 84)
    Total........... 19.7% (31 of 157).

    ABA needs to yank the plug. CSOL and FCSOL, too.

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    1. This was baked into the cake three years ago when Arizona Summit welcomed an incoming class with median LSAT scores of 141/144/148. And here is something else to ponder, those numbers got even worse for the class entering in 2015, which came in at 140/143/148. You know, if I were Arizona Summit, I would think about creating a mock bar exam graduation requirement . . . oh wait.

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    2. Imagining The Open ToadOctober 19, 2016 at 1:22 PM

      Yeah. Hey, I know, maybe they could pay the kids $10,000 to defer taking the bar exam until they're more prepared... oh, wait.

      Speaking of that program, while I don't know if they repeated it again, I do note LST indicates 310 kids entered the 2016 graduating class, but (from above) only 73 took the July bar exam.

      Assuming ASLS flunked out (or otherwise lost) their usual ~ 30% of noobs, that still leaves something on the close order of 140 would-be, should-be test takers unaccounted for.

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    3. Jesus H Christ. Not even twenty percent? Just exactly how far does the rate have to fall before the scamsters at the ABA will feel the need to act?

      Remember that Indiana Tech came within one graduate of having a rate of 0%.

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  18. Nice find. I had wondered if there might be something in the book, but it never occurred to me that it would be partly autobiographical.

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  19. Are there any concerns that Wendi's clerkship could allow her access or previews of evidence?

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    1. Imagining The Open ToadOctober 19, 2016 at 6:41 PM

      I can't Imagine how it could. She's a clerk in the 11th Cir - what's that got to do with FL state criminal court?

      Not to mention the idea that at this stage - criminal investigation - it's not like there are a lot of documents containing evidence being filed in any court, except possibly to the extent necessary to obtain warrants.

      But as mentioned first, that would be in the Florida state courts, not in the federal court system, and no reason to believe any evidence would be shared with a federal court of appeals.

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    2. "...except possibly to the extent necessary to obtain warrants." That's exactly the kind of intel I'd be worried about.

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  20. Interesting, the Florida Bar website that you linked to now includes "[Revised: 10-19-2016]" at the bottom...

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    1. "[Revised: 10-20-2016]"

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  21. Wendi graduated from law school at Miami not Florida State. (Yes, I feel compelled to point that out.)

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    1. I'm the original Anon at 9:59 on 10/19--I should say, thanks for the entertaining writeup. This is one of the few entertaining things to come out of this very sad situation.

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  22. Dybbuk, when are you reviewing Chuck Tingle's "Gay T-Rex Law Firm: Executive Boner"?

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  23. I've got a friend who graduated from Miami Law. He graduated cum laude. If memory serves, he said that cum laude at Miami only meant "top half" of the class. But I could be wrong. Maybe some Miami Law grads can weigh in. "It's all about The U."

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    1. Harvard's undergraduate program famously awards, or until recently awarded, Latin honors to the majority of the class.

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  24. So on this page it 'short bios' Wendi as "She resides in Florida with her boys." She wasn't even separated from Markel when the book was published, and she'd already written him out of their lives.

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    1. Unless she regarded Markel as one of her boys.

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    2. Given the way she describes the 'fictional' hubby in the book and how she left Markel shortly thereafter, I'm pretty sure she wasn't considering him one of 'her boys' when she wrote the biographical blurb...

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  25. I don't believe anyone is "convicting Wendi on the blogs". Instead, bloggers and commenters are simply taking more of the evidence pointing in her direction. Something I find quite curious is her contemporaneous police interview. She conveniently failed to mention the presence of a couple of suspicious guys lurking near dans house just before the murder. The guys who apparently drive slowly enough to make eye contact with her and arouse their suspicion. Remember Garcia's call to magbanua inquiring about the pedestrian near the house. If Wendi knew nothing about the murder, you would think She would have literally run to the cops with a top in the two Hispanic strangers she encountered very close to the crime scene

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    1. Good point. It appears she's going to have quite a bit of explaining to do. Even if she isn't guilty of everything "the internet" is suggesting... If random blog commenters with no inside info have identified giant (and bizarre, if not criminal) holes in her police interview, my guess is that investigators already have taken note and prosecutors will too. All I know is if my ex was killed and I had nothing to do with it, even if I loathed the ex, there would be cooperation on my part, not darting out of town and making lawyers do the talking for me.

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  26. With characteristic brilliance, Dybbuk exposed another hackademic scribbler's childish autobiographical shiterature:

    http://outsidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.ca/2015/10/who-wants-to-be-lousy-fiction-writer.html

    It seems to me that McElroy still wins hands down the prize for lousiest fiction by a law-skule hackademic, not to mention the prizes for narcissism and obliviousness. Sorry, Adelson. Better luck next time.

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  27. Oh God, these people are crazy !!

    Newt Gingrich just wrote some novel too.

    It seems everyone with an oversized ego feels they can pick up a pen and be the next James Patterson.

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  28. Whenever a law or philosophy professor is murdered, I immediately suspect Brian Leiter, simply because of his raging enmotions and habitual contempt for humanity. And he did try to redirect attention to Paul Campos, which is the type of despicable act a genuine murderer would feel compelled to commit.

    However, after Dybbuk's excellent analysis, I'm delighted to take Leiter's name off the short list one more time. Enjoy your freedom, Superman.

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