The English Major Makes History
J. Kendall Few combines his two passions: writing and the law
Published in 2009 South Carolina Super Lawyers magazine
on April 12, 2009
Updated on April 18, 2009
A woman pulls her car to a stop at an intersection. Suddenly, her car is struck from behind by a logging truck and erupts in deadly flames as the poorly designed gasoline tank ruptures and ignites.
This ghastly event sparks Greer-based attorney J. Kendall Few’s self-published novel Let Justice Be Done Though the Heavens May Fall.
Few says he wrote the book out of respect for the Seventh Amendment and the American trial system derived from it—a sentiment that’s not exactly unusual among trial attorneys. But not many lawyers have put as much money where their mouth is: Few has spent more than $750,000 publishing his two books. It’s all part of celebrating the system that he’s worked in for 42 years.
“We’ve lost the spirit of reverence and respect for the will of the people,” he says. “How can we be a democracy if we erode these principles?”
The principles in question involve the nature of the jury system as adopted in the Bill of Rights. Few believes Congress and the courts have eroded or failed to protect those rights, such as in the area of expert witnesses. This, to a lawyer with the bulk of his career spent as a plaintiff’s attorney, is the cardinal sin of the judicial process.
“The Seventh Amendment is to the U.S. what the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is to the Bible,” Few says.
Few’s historical novel is painstakingly researched—with 108 pages of appendix and numerous footnotes—and interspersed with more than 184 illustrations. It documents the lawsuit over the fatally flawed gas tank design and the legal battle that unfolds.
Few didn’t have to stray far from his career roots when laying out the plot. He’s made his reputation bringing products liability cases to court, specifically automotive crash-worthiness litigation. Few’s Web site, seatbeltbuckle.com, is itself a testament to his passion for putting defective seat-restraint system cases under the microscope.
Few’s longstanding love of the written word led to his serving as editor-in-chief of the South Carolina Law Review and self-publishing his mother’s historical novels.
Few says he has no judicial aspirations, proclaiming that he’d “put up the collective wisdom and experience of any jury against that of any trial judge. Any day, anywhere.”
That’s why he takes such issue with the power given federal judges in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals to serve as the court’s “gatekeeper” regarding the introduction of expert testimony.
“Imagine a lawsuit regarding the seaworthiness of a ship and the plaintiff’s attorney calls Christopher Columbus as an expert witness,” he posits. “The judge rules that Columbus isn’t qualified since he’s not a shipbuilder.”
His first foray into self-publishing on this topic was in 1993. The handsomely bound and boxed two-volume set In Defense of Judicial Democracy: May God Save the Seventh Amendment included 51 commissioned illustrations by “14 of the top illustrators in the country, at a cost of a thousand dollars per illustration,” says Few.
He decided to give a copy of In Defense of Judicial Democracy to every federal judge and member of the U.S. House and Senate, every state appellate court judge and every law school library in the U.S.—a total of over 9,000 gratis copies. Few estimates the total cost, not counting his time (more than 75 percent of his time over a two-year period) to be between $750,000 and $1 million, most of it borne by Few and his wife, Judy. The rest was raised through contributions by a group of lawyers who became trustees of the nonprofit American Jury Trial Foundation.
Few says he received some 700 personal thank-you letters, including a three-page missive from a U.S. senator—Few declines to say who—professing his own high regard for the country’s trial-by-jury system.
“But his career has not necessarily shown his reverence for the jury system,” Few grumbles.
Perhaps it’s a subject for the next book.
The novel is available at jkendallfew.com.