A Peek Behind the Curtain

By Shelby Yastrow

 

This blog would not be complete without providing a “peek behind the curtain” to meet the incredible lawyer who was the inspiration for Charlie Mayfield, the lawyer who represented the plaintiff, Eddie Bennison, in the trial that was the focus of Bad Lies.

 

That lawyer was John Cassidy, one of the greatest lawyers with whom I ever had the pleasure to work. John served as the Illinois Attorney General from 1938 to 1941, and then concentrated on his own law practice in Peoria, Illinois. In late 1959, just after I had graduated from the Northwestern University School of Law, I joined a law firm and began doing legal work for a small, new company that later became a global phenomenon—McDonald’s Corporation. The company had a tough case coming to trial in Peoria. Our law firm hired John Cassidy to try the case for us, and I was assigned to assist him.

 

After a lengthy trial that spanned an entire year, and multiple appeals, we eventually reached a settlement, which was very favorable to McDonald’s. During that one-year trial, I learned more from observing and assisting John Cassidy than I learned during three years of law school—and during all the years since.

 

Like the character he inspired in the book, Charlie Mayfield, John was a big man with white hair, and he had a voice that, depending on the circumstances, could either call hogs or put little children to sleep. Charlie has John’s “trust me” eyes, his sense of humor, and his uncanny ability to cut a witness to ribbons without the witness even being aware of it. Both lawyers knew how to make a point in the most effective way—sometimes even by withdrawing an inappropriate question when it was only the question, and not the answer, that Charlie or John wanted the jury to hear.

 

Neither man, real or fictional, was known for his sartorial splendor, but each was well known—and highly respected—for his total devotion to his clients, for his thorough preparedness, his professional ethics, and for his enviable success in the courtroom.

 

John Cassidy left us in 1984 at the age of 88. But I hope that our portrayal of him, in the character of Charlie Mayfield in Bad Lies, is a fitting tribute to a man who exemplified the best of our profession.

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