Hidden Behind the Robe

A Courthouse Thriller

Fiction - Mystery - Legal
312 Pages
Reviewed on 05/02/2022
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Matt Graham is a native son of the San Fernando Valley, the first in his immediate family to graduate college, the husband to his high-school sweetheart, a father of two, and a grandfather of four.

Graham attended Cal State University, Northridge, and Loyola University School of Law School before working ten years as a state prosecutor. His improbable rise from the Los Angeles Superior Court to the California Court of Appeal was the product of a work ethic rooted in his upbringing in Van Nuys​.

As a prosecutor, and by the age of thirty, Graham successfully argued cases in the United States and California Supreme Court. He presided over hundreds of criminal jury trials between 1985 and 2005. Graham authored over eleven hundred appellate decisions as a justice on the Court of Appeal.

Hidden Behind the Robe, Graham’s first novel, is a compilation of stranger than fiction events witnessed during his decorated career. Hidden Behind the Robe has a 4.6 star rating on Amazon, and was named a top award winner in the 2022 Reader's Favorite Book Contest in the legal thriller category.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Stephanie Chapman for Readers' Favorite

Hidden Behind The Robe by Matt Graham is a legal drama. Judge Dunning received an anonymous letter accusing Judge William Davis Hyde of sexual misconduct. The allegations stated he'd had sex with a court clerk in his chambers. Included in the message, the person stated they'd also had sex with the judge. Opening an investigation, Judge Dunning included human resources detective Ricardo Mijares, who consulted his esteemed colleague Judge Doreen Schultz. She advised Mijares to talk to the mail clerk, Mary Presley. After Mijares confirms who the author of the letter is, Judge Dunning orders cameras to be placed in the chambers of the judges, hoping to prove the allegations. An inept police officer sends out a mass email confirming the completion of the camera installation. Judge Hyde and several of his supporters condemn the action. The following day, Judge Dunning receives a threatening phone call. When he arrives at work, he receives an email proving his life will be altered.

Matt Graham detailed the emotional effects of criminal court cases by using Judge Dunning’s position. Media scenarios that are inaccurate, protestors with a misguided agenda, and social isolation from everyone could drive a person to insanity. While this is a fictional story, I have seen the same persecution by the media in trials like Kyle Rittenhouse and Derek Chauvin. The political agenda of elected officials is often the reason for scandals to surface. Dunning’s investigation threatened Hyde’s career. Labeling a person a racist is a surefire way to end someone’s career. I liked how the leads for Mijares and a student reporter opened before me. The ending was unpredictable, and the storyline was captivating. I would recommend Hidden Behind The Robe to readers who enjoy a suspense story with realistic scenarios in the justice system.

Stacey Jernigan

Hidden Behind the Robe is a delicious and riveting chronicle about scandals and dysfunction in a California courthouse. Protagonist Charles Dunning is a decent, hardworking trial judge whose life is thrown into a tailspin when he is falsely accused of racism. The accusation stems from a procedural ruling he made more than 20 years ago in a murder case (during a “Marsden” hearing). His anonymous accuser is quickly revealed to be an arrogant, smarmy judge (Judge William Davis Hyde) who presides in the same courthouse and is trying to deflect attention from his own serious problem—an investigation regarding his predatory behavior toward women in the courthouse. While Judge Hyde’s courthouse conduct with women employees is well known, egregious, and shocking (set forth in the book with descriptions that are not for the faint of heart), it is Judge Dunning who is vilified and the subject of national media focus, spotlighting racism in the courts. Judge Dunning’s career appears doomed—based on an accusation that seems at best dubious. Meanwhile, the career of an upstanding public defender (whose alleged racism was supposedly tolerated or ignored by Judge Dunning) is also ruined in the process.

The novel is written mostly in the first person from Judge Dunning’s perspective. The author is obviously an “insider” in the American justice system. He writes with a gravitas that reflects deep knowledge of the criminal justice world. His characters are rich and entertaining, from criminals in the courtroom such as the foul mouthed recidivist named “D’Minimus”; to Judge Dunning’s “perpetually aloof” Courtroom Deputy, Sheriff Kemp; to the obnoxious bow tie wearing sexual predator Judge Hyde; to the lazy, dishonest Harvard alum lawyer Lenny Fraker; to the young journalist Aaron Dawson who unexpectedly ferrets out the truth. Most importantly, the sympathetic, fair, and likable Judge Dunning is admirably resilient and calm—while grappling with the likely end of his storied career.

The book is thought provoking without lecturing at all. On the one hand, it describes the unraveling of a decent public servant’s life, due to anonymous, false accusations—with some accusers shielded by well intended, whistleblower statutes. On the other hand, the author points out that there is real racism in the criminal justice system—noting that the convicted murderer at the center of the racism accusation “never had a chance from the moment he was born,” and race and luck had certainly been a factor in his life.

I give this work a 5-star rating. It is terrific storytelling and thoroughly enjoyable, whether you’re a fan of the legal thriller genre or not.