Tough Cases

Judges Tell the Stories of Some of the Hardest Decisions They’ve Ever Made

A rare and illuminating view of how judges decide dramatic legal cases—Law and Order from behind the bench—including the Elián González, Terri Schiavo, and Scooter Libby cases

“An unprecedented view from the bench of compelling stories told by trial judges as they grapple with the most fundamental questions in life and the law. The honesty, compassion, frustration, angst, and indeed courage of these judges shine through.” —Greta van Sustren, journalist and former criminal defense attorney

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have it easy—all they have to do is to present the evidence and make arguments. It’s the judges who have the heavy lift: they are the ones who have to make the ultimate decisions, many of which have profound consequences on the lives of the people standing in front of them.

In Tough Cases, judges from different kinds of courts in different parts of the country write about the cases that proved most difficult for them to decide. Some of these cases received international attention: the Elián González case in which Judge Jennifer Bailey had to decide whether to return a seven-year-old boy to his father in Cuba after his mother drowned trying to bring the child to the United States, or the Terri Schiavo case in which Judge George Greer had to decide whether to withdraw life support from a woman in a vegetative state over the objections of her parents, or the Scooter Libby case about appropriate consequences for revealing the name of a CIA agent. Others are less well-known but equally fascinating: a judge on a Native American court trying to balance U.S. law with tribal law, a young Korean American former defense attorney struggling to adapt to her new responsibilities on the other side of the bench, and the difficult decisions faced by a judge tasked with assessing the mental health of a woman accused of killing her own children.

Relatively few judges have publicly shared the thought processes behind their decision making. Tough Cases makes for fascinating reading for everyone from armchair attorneys and fans of Law and Order to those actively involved in the legal profession who want insight into the people judging their work.


Tough Cases brings readers the closest they will come to putting on judicial robes and making the demanding decisions that change the course of people’s lives.”
—Judge Jonathan Lippman, former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals
“Hard cases may or may not make bad law, but they certainly make for riveting reading. A cannot-put-down book by some of our most thoughtful jurists.”
—Louis Michael Seidman, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law, Georgetown University Law Center
Tough Cases is a powerful collection of inside information about some of the most interesting and high-profile cases of our times. As riveting as a courtroom drama, it is essential reading for lawyers, law students, and all concerned about justice in America.”
—Paul Butler, author of Chokehold
“Candid reflections of judges who were there. From family cases to tribal courts, constitutional questions to murder, Tough Cases takes the reader inside the courtroom and into the judge’s chamber.”
—Mary McQueen, president, National Center for State Courts

News and Reviews

ABA Journal

“Tough Cases provides 13 eye-opening looks into what it truly means to be a trial judge and reveals how we all find meaning in our professional lives through the stories that we subsequently tell about the work that we do.”

Goodreads Reviews