David’s invention, A3G, was the lawyer to take your vote for “male superhotties of the federal judiciary” or to deliver final judgment of a Supreme Court nominee based on her hairstyle. When David was finally exposed as A3G, future New Jersey Governor Christie declined his young attorney’s resignation. David did eventually leave his federal job and disrobed himself of the popular blog to briefly edit the even bigger politics blog, Wonkette, before moving on to become founder and managing editor of “Above the Law” today with a following of over one million, mostly lawyers like himself.
Unflinching Account of Race and Gender
Still resilient at age 39, David has proved that popular bloggers are not all free-form essayists writing like they talk. His debut novel, Supreme Ambitions, shows the word craft of a Harvard English major with the added prestige of a Yale law degree. It’s the maiden release from Ankerwycke, the new trade imprint of the American Bar Association.
In many ways the novel is unapologetically emblematic of David’s past writing, giving his obsessed audience of lawyers and judges several uninterrupted hours of quality time, but it also keeps the other 50 percent of Americans enthralled. In David’s Pasadena, en banc hearings, the intricacies of jurisdiction and legal legerdemain do not alienate laypersons but become part and parcel of life, like light sabers in Star Wars.
Supreme Ambitions resurrects David’s alter ego A3G, this time blogging for the website, “Beneath Their Robes.” Within the fictional blogosphere, A3G gets hooked on Ninth Circuit Judge Christina Wong Stinson, the idealized “superhottie” the real world denied A3G in her former life. A3G writes, “This half-Asian hottie combines fantastic bone structure with a rocking body, showcased quite nicely by her elegant and expensive ensembles.” (Armani, St. John and Chanel should have paid David for product placement.) Of course, Judge Stinson cannot be as perfect as she looks.
Fresh out of Yale Law School with an AB from Harvard, half-Filipina Audrey Coyne is part of the new crop of law clerks Judge Stinson puts to the test. A recommendation from Judge Stinson could be a ticket to a clerkship with a Supreme Court Justice. Audrey, the daughter of a Filipina nursing assistant mother and working class Irish-American father in Queens, is instantly drawn to the “feeder judge to the Supreme Court” who also comes from humble origins. The trouble is Judge Stinson herself has Supreme Court ambitions and she’s not about to let anything, including the law, stand in her way.
Even when other clerks call their boss a “political hack” and “lazy,” Audrey defends her fellow Asian. “I don’t think that’s fair. She’s a demanding boss with high expectations. We have to rise to meet those expectations.” Meet them Audrey does, working around the clock during the winter break to produce a memorandum that displays her judge’s genius while Judge Stinson and her Hollywood agent husband vacation at the Four Seasons Hualalai.
Say "sexism," a few shoulders shrug. Say "racism," muscles tense. These two injustices bonded together are more potent than their parts. The key is to use this compound molecule for heat without ever making the story argumentative or worse, academic. David does the trick sleight of hand.
As a young woman in a male-dominated career, Audrey must be careful. Even a middle-aged judge who may be her mentor can trigger a creep alert. Audrey sympathizes with Judge Stinson’s admonition: “To be a successful professional woman, you need to be a little monstrous.” To a point.
When the line between selfishness and the law blurs, Audrey must scrutinize what the judge will (or in some cases, won’t) do to get ahead and, of course, confess her own betrayals, two of which offer zero prospect of kissing and making out. She starts to regret her bold statement, “I’m you,” that first won Judge Stinson over at her interview.
Audrey’s mother is a guiding light of encouragement and insight. She sees through the Judge’s haute couture garments with a piece of Filipina wisdom: “kung sino ang masalita ay siyang kulang sa gawa,” which Audrey translates to: “Whoever talks much never does much.”
Much in the way he gives every moment in the novel significance in the larger story, David is deliberate in giving his protagonist’s Filipino heritage top billing. While he admits his first priority was to produce a “realistic legal novel” for his peers, he states, “Second, I wanted to write a book that Filipino Americans could appreciate. My main character, Audrey Coyne, is Filipino American, and there are shout-outs throughout the book to her Filipino heritage, such as favorite foods of hers (sinigang shows up on the first page) and snippets of Tagalog.”
David writes authoritatively as a former law clerk himself (Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain of the Ninth Circuit Court) and once a rising associate in the New York law office of Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz. He embodies the intellectual crusader and rock in the mainstream who gives American readers pause to reflect upon their preconceptions about Filipino Americans relative to other Asian nationalities.
“There are not many representations of Filipinos in modern American literature, and I want to do my part to change that. Even Asian-American literature tends to be dominated by groups other than Filipinos. We are sometimes like a minority within a minority, and I wanted to contribute in some way towards raising our visibility,” David says.
Then why did he make the principal characters in his novel only half-Asian? David acknowledges a preference the entertainment industry has shown for women who are part-Asian, such as Katie Chang, Ann Curry and Vanessa Hudgens.
“Perhaps they are more ‘relatable’ to a world where Asian-Americans are a distinct minority,” David speculates. “Perhaps they are less ‘threatening,’ given the stereotype I explore in the book of the so-called ‘dragon lady,’ or ferocious Asian female.”
Judge Stinson demonstrates that a passive aggressive kind of dragon lady is more acceptable to the legal community.
Unlike in Hogwarts, Mudbloods or multiethnic people in America haven’t historically been as vulnerable to scapegoating. David describes a partial dilution to be a potential advantage for Filipinos. “I do wonder if this preference could actually benefit Filipino American actresses and entertainers given the hybridity and mixing that already exist within ‘Filipino Filipino’ culture. This may be an overgeneralization, but I think that Filipinos in general are less conscious or concerned about ethnic ‘purity’ compared to other Asian groups.”
Indeed, Filipinos, themselves, may actually favor a mixture, as suggested by the comment by Audrey's mother on Judge Stinson. “Very pretty! Mestiza beauty. As they say back home,” the wise Filipina remarks.
A True Filipino American
David Lat has it all – Ivy League credentials, boyish charm, a stylish wardrobe and supportive parents. He was born in Far Rockaway, New York, to two doctors, Emmanuel Alina Lat and Zenda Garcia Lat, who met at the University of the Philippines medical school.
“My parents spoke often, fondly, and proudly, of the Philippines,” David recalls. “We ate Filipino food at home and received our local Filipino-American newspaper, the Filipino Reporter — which I reference in the novel. My parents took me and my sister Charlene ‘back home’ every few years, often around Christmas, a particularly festive time in the Philippines, but also for family events like cousins’ weddings or my maternal grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary. I still keep in touch with my relatives in the Philippines through email, Facebook and Skype.”
David’s affection for his younger sister shows with sentences that rarely substitute pronouns for her name. Charlene, who suffered from bipolar disorder, ended her pain at age 24 from the 25th-floor balcony of his Manhattan apartment.
“When Charlene passed away, I was still a practicing lawyer with an inchoate, unrealized interest in writing. I think her untimely passing reminded me that our time here is limited and that we should use it to pursue our passions. I started my first blog, ‘Underneath Their Robes,’ the same month that she died. In the months after Charlene’s death, I found blogging — specifically, blogging under a different identity — to be interestingly therapeutic and comforting as I tried to deal with the loss.”
When David was exposed as A3G in 2006, The New York Times reported, “Mr. Lat grew up in blue-collar Bergenfield and well-to-do Saddle River, where his neighbors included former President Richard M. Nixon. When he was young, he would go to the Nixon house to get candy, a Halloween card and a handshake from the former president.”
The ritualistic handshake from the lawyer turned Republican statesman may have influenced David’s politics from childhood to early adulthood. College classmates will likely remember David for his reactionary opinions in the Harvard Crimson, in which he “lamented revocation of Ireland’s ban on divorce, and repeatedly castigated the school’s Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Student Association,” according to The New York Times.
The dapper dandy has long since outgrown the stark, un-shaded opinions of his youth. “I’m less conservative today than in the past,” he admits. “As I’ve grown older, I have learned that the world is a more complex place than I realized in my youth. Perhaps this is my training as a lawyer coming through, my seeing both sides of every argument. Very few things in life are truly black and white; there’s a great deal of grey out there.”
In what may be a subconscious mea culpa, two redeeming characters in his novel are gay and lesbian.
Not Quite ‘Tootsie,’ but Close
In his novel, David shows an uncanny ability to relate with women. “In terms of why I made my protagonist a female, I guess I’ve been in touch with my feminine side! When I wrote my first blog, Underneath Their Robes, I pretended to be a woman. I did that initially to conceal my true identity, but as time passed, I found I enjoyed assuming a woman’s viewpoint. When I started writing Supreme Ambitions, I returned to a female voice partly as an homage to Underneath their Robes, which played to the same target audience of the book.” One curiosity the novel immediately piques is how a male author would write a heterosexual love scene from the first-person perspective of a woman.
Through Supreme Ambitions, David not only expresses his familiarity with his X chromosome, but also his affinity for his Asian genes. “I want to use the book to explore the challenges of being Asian in the legal profession. Asian Americans haven’t made the inroads into law that we have made into other fields, such as medicine and science. We are still very much the minority in law. That sense of being an outsider and that sense of insecurity are important themes for Supreme Ambitions.”
In the twentieth century, biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Clarence Darrow inspired youth toward law careers. Today, in the cynical age of social media, youth may have become too jaded for dead heroes to inspire them. They would rather have someone admirable they can talk to and make them laugh, like David Lat.
Anthony Maddela grew up in Seattle. He lives with his family of four in Los Angeles.
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