A Judge’s Odyssey

From Vermont to Russia, Kazakhstan and Georgia, to War Crimes and Organ Trafficking in Kosovo

Non-Fiction - Memoir
294 Pages
Reviewed on 08/15/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Keith Mbuya for Readers' Favorite

A Judge’s Odyssey: From Vermont to Russia, Kazakhstan and Georgia, to War Crimes and Organ Trafficking in Kosovo by Judge Dean B. Pineles is a compelling and enthralling autobiography that richly captures Pineles’ journey and experiences while serving in the American judicial system and some parts of Europe. Having served in the Justice Department in Washington D.C, Pineles kicked off his career in the legal profession in the mid-70s, heading a department in Vermont’s Attorney General’s office. He steadily climbed the hierarchical ladder of Vermont’s judicial system and made an impact in its corridors of justice. After an eventful two-decade tenure domestically, he ventured into the international justice domain where he helped adapt and implement the rule of law in parts of Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Kosovo.

Judge Dean B. Pineles’ A Judge’s Odyssey is a magnificent piece of work. Pineles conveys his thoughts, ideas, and encounters in a forthright, candid, and insightful way. He gave me a front seat in the political and judicial realm of the United States and the respective parts of Europe he describes in his book. He captures the latter’s social and political panorama with genuine originality, not ignoring the mood and atmosphere surrounding these societal pillars. He graces his memoir with profoundly witty anecdotes, reminding me that judges too are human and experience life in the same way as other people. I learned a lot about the functioning of the judicial system in Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, and even the US. I also learned so much from the cases Pineles handled, especially those in Kosovo. This is a must-read for political enthusiasts. Get yourself a copy of this memoir to learn more about the author's engrossing experiences.

K.C. Finn

A Judge’s Odyssey is a work of non-fiction in the memoir subgenre. It is suitable for the general reading audience and was penned by author Dean B. Pineles. The book chronicles the author's life and career as a judge in Vermont before working as an adviser in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia. During his career, the author played a role in cases ranging from the trafficking of human organs to the corruption of his fellow judges, and even war crimes. Reflecting on an influential and colorful career, the author finds the wisdom to be shared in victories and defeats and shares those lessons with readers.

The memoir of an accomplished professional is always an interesting read, but the life lived by this author touches on so many intense and important real-world issues that it immediately elevates itself above similar books in the genre. Author Dean B. Pineles accompanies the incredible life he has lived with gorgeous prose that brings the whole journey to life, creating an unmissable journey through the Vermont legal system and beyond that into a world of conflict and human rights violations in which the advocacy of justice is essential. I found the whole work completely engrossing as the author frankly shared his failures as willingly as his successes, reflecting the whole time on what he learned along the way. Overall, A Judge’s Odyssey charts an incredible life of fighting for justice in a world riddled with injustice and does so with a generous openness that humanizes the experience throughout.

Carmen Tenorio

Dean B. Pineles starts his memoir by tracing his ancestry back to America's first English poet (a woman!) and to a Massachusetts governor who opposed "hysteria" as acceptable evidence that led to the executions during the Salem Witch trials. He then directs the narrative to his primary focus in life, which was to train and become a skilled prosecutor, and this can be seen in his early diligence, achievements, and hard work as a college and law school student. His unique training and two decades of experience enabled him to build up justice systems as an international rule of law judge for the former USSR republics of Georgia and Kosovo, where he demonstrated how the ambit of rules and jurisprudence should be implemented despite the attendant risks and danger. A Judge's Odyssey closes with an epilogue that talks about the status of the important cases and the judicial system that he had to leave behind when he returned to the US, as well as connecting the June 1999 armistice in Kosovo to the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A Judge's Odyssey contains interesting events and situations that remind the reader of plots from stories about wars, revenge, criminal syndicates, corruption, or remote political muscle flexing or influence peddling from Washington DC, non-fictionalized. The author gives a balanced view of how the rule of law works by including not only cases that agreed with his decisions, but also cases that didn't turn out the way they should or how he wanted them to be. It's a dose of reality both amusing and an eye-opener. The author's engaging and straightforward writing brings to the fore the important work of this American judge internationally.

Dean B. Pineles uses a logical and clear writing style without legalese terms to reach a wider set of readers beyond legal colleagues and professionals. Even if he drops some fancy word in his narrative every now and then, he makes sure that the reader can logically follow his flow of thought, even for non-legals like me. His use of humor can be quite entertaining, which can be helpful in appreciating the full picture of a situation, or anecdote, oftentimes leaving you with a giggle. I recommend this book not only for members of the legal profession, but also for those who have a keen interest in current events and the workings of international law in countries transitioning to a modern, more civilized governance, limiting the arbitrary exercise of power and force, or in protecting the rights of its people and advancing inclusivity in their society.

Essien Asian

Dean B. Pineles is a judge who served on the Vermont state circuit for twenty-one years. After his retirement, he became actively involved in work concerning the rule of law that would culminate in his service in different capacities in the legal profession across four nations. A Judge's Odyssey: From Vermont to Russia, Kazakhstan and Georgia, to War Crimes and Organ Trafficking in Kosovo is a detailed account of the issues he had to deal with in a bid to bring the American style of justice to the region. Starting from his early years in Law School at Boston University, through to his foray in the United States Justice Department and Vermont state political scene and right up to the present, Pineles tells us his story and holds nothing back. From dodging dangerous drivers in Tbilisi to prosecuting illegal organ harvesting rings in Kosovo, everything is laid bare for all to access.

A Judge's Odyssey by Dean B. Pineles is an unusual take on the American justice system from the viewpoint of a key player within the system. For years we have watched the International courts carry out their duties as they prosecute war criminals without having more than a vague idea of how the wheels of justice turn. Pineles offers us an opportunity to experience it up close. His accounts are filled with details that add the stamp of authenticity that even the staunchest naysayers cannot debunk. The usefulness of the glossary at the end of the book with links that researchers can use to verify his statistics cannot be over-emphasized. This is a book every professional in the justice system can learn a thing or two from.

Foluso Falaye

Dean B. Pineles details his eventful, perilous, and surprisingly exciting legal career in A Judge’s Odyssey. When Dean moved from being an advocate to serving as a judge, he found it considerably challenging, especially because the former could be partial while the latter is expected to be impartial. This experience of transforming from one role to another is one of the many changes Dean went through throughout his journey in the legal field. Dean left an exemplary impact everywhere he served, whether in Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, or Kosovo. Throughout his career, Dean took on different serious cases, including sexual assault, child abuse, murder, war crimes, and human organ trafficking to name a few. The author also relates the time he barely escaped war in Georgia, just before Russia invaded it, and shares his commentary on the Russia-Ukraine war.

What a privilege to see such a global historically significant phenomenon as "the first decision throughout ​the world that found medical doctors guilty of organ trafficking" from the perspective of a legal practitioner who played an important role in it and several other powerful verdicts. A Judge’s Odyssey combines various outstanding elements, like atrocious criminal plots, detailed historical information, information about some interesting cultures, frightening escapes from war environments, and happy moments between foreigners and locals. You won't find a single boring part in Dean B. Pineles' memoir, as the informative essays and captivating stories are well-balanced throughout the book. Its highly valuable information connected me to different times and places and inspired me to appreciate the sacrifices honest legal practitioners make to ensure we live peacefully and safely in different parts of the world. A captivating story that captures an extremely exciting life!