Dan Lawton Publishes New Book About Kevin Artt, Wrongfully Convicted of Murdering a Prison Official During the Troubles

Dan Lawton

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – Shareholder Dan Lawton has built a practice focused on civil trial work, intellectual property, and complex commercial litigation. He is certified as a legal specialist in Appellate Law by the State Bar’s California Board of Legal Specialization. Over the years. he has also taken on numerous pro bono cases, and one of those cases inspired Mr. Lawton to publish a new book. Titled ABOVE THE GROUND, Mr. Lawton takes the reader along on a journey through one of the darkest periods of Northern Ireland’s history.

  • Kevin Artt mugshot and booking sheet. (11-28-81)

Dan Lawton recently joined Autumn Snō, a San Diego-based artist and teacher, to discuss the process and the inspiration for his new book.

AS: Your new book, ABOVE THE GROUND: A True Story About The Troubles in Northern Ireland, shares the struggles and triumphs of Kevin Barry Artt and his experience with wrongful conviction. What is The Troubles and where does Artt’s case begin?

DL: The Troubles was an unconventional conflict among three sets of groups: the governments of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Irish Republicans who sought a united Ireland free of British sovereignty, and Loyalists who opposed a united Ireland and wished for Northern Ireland to remain a part of the U.K.

The modern Troubles lasted from 1968 until 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement. The Troubles manifested themselves sporadically, in a variety of ugly ways: murders, riots, civil disturbances, hijackings, bombings, punishment beatings (or “kneecappings”), and otherwise. A big part of it was the Irish Republican Army, a guerrilla force which targeted British security forces. Other combatants included Loyalist paramilitary groups who opposed Britain’s withdrawal from Northern Ireland. Violent killings attributed to the Troubles exceeded 3,700 deaths, most of whom were civilians. The number of injured topped 47,000. The other human and economic costs of the Troubles are hard to calculate with precision.

Artt’s case began in 1981, when he was charged with the IRA murder of Albert Miles, a British prison official. It didn’t really end until 2020, when the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal issued its ruling in his case. It was a marathon all right.

AS: What was it about Artt’s case that was so compelling, not only for you to take on as a pro bono client, but to then write a book about?

DL: The Artt case was to me unique. There have been a lot of stories about the Troubles down the years — some Hollywood movies, some novels, some nonfiction books, even “The Ferryman,” the brilliant play starring Tom Daugherty in San Diego. But none of them involved an innocent man, falsely convicted of an IRA murder, who takes part in the most daring and famous prison escape in history, the Maze escape of 1983, who gets justice in the end. I wanted to bring that story to anyone who would listen. It has themes of survival and redemption, but it also has takeaways about how legal and policing systems can become a kind of meat grinder that can chew up innocent people. That’s still going on in a lot of places today, including in parts of the U.S.

AS: Kevin Barry Artt’s case spanned two continents and took nearly forty years. As you were creating this book and sorting through a wealth of information, how did you decide what to include and what would have to be left behind? How has your work as an attorney shaped this process?

DL: The volume of the records of the two cases — one in Northern Ireland, one in the federal courts in California — was large. There were many witnesses to be interviewed on both sides of the Atlantic. “What to leave in, what to leave out” was hard for me. You look at a room full of banker’s boxes and wonder where to start.

Books seem to be getting shorter and shorter nowadays. Cutting what started out as a 267,000 word manuscript down to 105,000 words took some time. In the end, the most compelling parts of the story to me were the assassination attempts against Kevin in Belfast, the Diplock court show trial in which he was falsely convicted there in 1983, and his escape from the Maze prison and journey to California. I hope the reader will like the finished product.

As a lawyer, I find I’m constantly having to cut stuff — parts of briefs that seem to drag, passages of opening statements and closing arguments that consume undue time in front of the jury, PowerPoint slides that are too cluttered with data and not punchy enough. What I’m always going for is to tell the story in a vivid way that will grab the audience. I had to exercise those muscles in composing and then editing this book. Someone told me, “You have to kill your babies.” What they meant was, you have to dedicate yourself to cutting material that you once thought was really good and into which you put some labor, and do it without feeling bad about all the time you wasted writing pages that no one will ever read. Think about the reader, not about yourself.

AS: When you attended the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University Law School, did you have any foresight that pro bono work would lead you to meet a client who would then inspire you to become a non-fiction author?  What about Artt’s case urged you to bring his story into the minds of many?

DL: I wish I could say, “yes, I did,” but I didn’t. As a college student, I thought I would either enter the Foreign Service and work for the State Department or else become a radio broadcaster. Law didn’t occur to me until federal prosecutors falsely charged my dad in 1980. I attended his trial and got to watch Don Marks and Tony Brooklier in front of the jury every day. The jury acquitted him. If he’d been convicted, who knows what would have happened to our family and his ability to earn a living. I saw what lawyers could do against a big scary machine, and I learned that prosecutors and judges can go off the rails and wreak injustices on innocent people. That got me thinking about law school.

AS: Imagine you are ten years old, again. You are the oldest of four kids and growing up just outside of Anaheim, California. What books and stories interested you then? What advice would you give to that version of yourself, knowing you’ll grow up to be a storyteller?

DL: I liked Mark Twain. In “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer,” his protagonists were boys my age. There were plenty of scary moments, but there was comedy too, and I liked the combination of those things, and how they outsmarted the grown-ups. I devoured “The Hardy Boys” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Three Investigators” series. They also involved kids as protagonists. They were trying to solve crimes and deal with adults who seemed a little dumb at times. I think I read every “Peanuts” comic strip and comic book that Charles Schulz ever wrote. We had a whole shelf of them in our house. It wasn’t what you would call literature, but it was my favorite part of the newspaper every morning. I just wanted Charlie Brown to get to kick that football, but he never got to do it thanks to you-know-who. For some reason I related to that. I must have felt like him a lot.

Advice I would give to myself? I would say, “Listen.”

ABOVE THE GROUND: The True Story of the Troubles in Northern Ireland is now available online and at neighborhood bookstores. More information can be found at:

Klinedinst congratulates Mr. Lawton on pursuing his passion to write this compelling new book. To learn more about Mr. Lawton, please visit:

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