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Cape May Court House: A Death in the Night


Cape May Court House: A Death in the Night

In an America fascinated, intrigued and frustrated by its legal
system, Lawrence Schiller is one of the countries most
knowledgeable and sage observers. He has written about O.J.
Simpson, Jon Benet Ramsey and master spy Robert Hannsen. He
frequently appears on television talk shows discussing the law and
its intricate maneuvers. He is a man who understands and
appreciates the operation of the American legal system. In CAPE MAY
COURT HOUSE: A Death in the Night, Schiller presents a view of the
legal system from a perspective distinctively different from most
readers have experienced. The legal system presented in CAPE MAY
COURTHOUSE lacks the notoriety and glamour of previous cases that
Schiller has examined. The case studied is neither a major crime
nor a front-page saga. The absence of these elements, however, does
not detract from a fascinating and thought provoking story that
will leave readers with many unanswered questions when they reach
the end of the book.

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE refers not to the locale of the litigation
that forms the basis for Schiller's narrative. Rather, it is the
New Jersey community where Eric and Tracy Thomas reside at the time
of Tracy's tragic and soon to be suspicious death. The Thomas
family had moved to the community after Eric purchased a medical
practice and began his career as a dentist. To the residents of the
community, the young doctor and his wife, pregnant with the
couple's second child, gave the appearance of the perfect young
married family. Tragedy would soon enter their lives when Tracy
died after the family's Ford Explorer goes off the road in what
appears initially to be a minor accident.

Early investigation of the death of Tracy Thomas implied that her
death resulted from the improper inflation of the air bag in the
Ford Explorer. The inquiry by the medical examiner determined that
improper operation of the bag resulted in Tracy's suffocation. As
any observer of the American legal system would expect, this
information resulted in a civil lawsuit for wrongful death filed
against Ford Motor Company and other defendants. Up to this point
in the narrative, the Thomas story does not differ from hundreds of
thousands of civil lawsuits filed and ultimately resolved in
thousands of law offices and courthouses across America.

Civil litigation commences with a process referred to as discovery.
Parties to lawsuits are entitled to investigate the claims of their
opponents and are obligated to exchange information concerning the
litigation. In many complex cases the discovery process can take
several years that are often brutal and financially taxing. This
process can often determine the outcome of the litigation. During
the discovery phase of the Thomas litigation, evidence came to
light suggesting that Tracy Thomas' death was anything but an
unfortunate accident. Schiller recounts the detection of this
critical information in a neutral and detached manner. Using the
legal arguments, strategy and news media accounts as an
underpinning, he involves the reader in an attempt to answer
questions surrounding the death that occurred on that winter
evening in 1997.

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE lacks the definitive denouement that most
readers have grown to expect in actual litigation. There is no jury
verdict in either a civil or criminal case to bring closure to the
fateful events that led to the death of Tracy Thomas. At the end of
this book many questions remain unanswered. As a result, the reader
may find himself disappointed. Yet, more often than not, that is
the actual outcome of litigation. Many cases end leaving both sides
with concerns and unanswered questions. Lawrence Schiller has
reported the facts of this case as an observer rather than as an
advocate. While he may be uncertain as to what transpired in the
village of Cape May Court House, he is more than willing to let the
reader come to his own conclusion based upon the information he
furnishes. Those individuals who enjoy a real life mystery,
unencumbered by emotional baggage will enjoy reading this book and
attempting to solve the unanswered questions in the same manner as
those parties involved in the death of Tracy Thomas.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 24, 2011

Cape May Court House: A Death in the Night
by Lawrence Schiller

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2002
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Collins
  • ISBN-10: 006000665X
  • ISBN-13: 9780060006655