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The Unexpected Guest: Telling All

Not even a week after he was assessed $20.7 million in damages from his civil trial in which a jury found him guilty of "injury to a child" of heiress Joan Blaffer Johnson's two youngest children and aggravated sexual assault of one of them, Dinesh Shah got more bad news from one of his lawyers.

Attorney Michael Phillips informed his former client that he would be writing a tell-all book about him. Last summer, that book came out under the title Monster in River Oaks.

Phillips says Shah did not object to his plan to write the book, and that nothing in it is privileged. "Everything in it is in the public domain," says Phillips. "I didn't say anything in the book that Dinny told me in confidence. Everything in it was testified to, offered into evidence or exchanged between lawyers as discovery. And no one has told me that the facts [of the case] were wrong." (Though the book is listed as a novel on the dust jacket, Phillips says every word of it is true, save for some factual errors having nothing to do with the case. The use of the word "novel" was a printer's error, he says.)

Still, some think Phillips showed shaky legal ethics and that he positively courted having a grievance filed against him. After all, it's not every day that someone writes a book with a title like Monster in River Oaks about a man who had once been a client. (In a jailhouse interview, Shah said that he plans to sue Phillips upon his release.)

"The problem is, who grieves him?" asks Jim Perdue Jr., one of the two lawyers who defeated Phillips in civil court. "Dinny's got no credibility at all. He certainly can't claim any damages."

To Perdue, Phillips's authoring of the book is on safe ground, if you are viewing it through the prism of the letter, as opposed to the spirit, of legal ethics. On the other hand, Perdue thinks writing the book was morally reprehensible.

"Unfortunately, there's always an appetite for what would purport to be the secrets of the rich and famous," he says. "Sadly, the lawyer who defended the guy, who stood in the middle of the courtroom and proclaimed that those children were lying, then tried to profit on essentially the salaciousness of selling the secrets of the rich and famous to the community.

"That is kind of insulting," Perdue continues. "It's not kind of insulting, it's damned insulting."

While allowing that some people have shared Perdue's view, Phillips says he had a higher purpose than mere salaciousness in mind.

"I can't tell you how many grandparents have come up to me emotional, thanking me for writing the book," he says. "They say that their daughters are going through relationships like this. One woman stopped me on the elevator and said she sent my book to Oprah."

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Phillips claims the book is a warning to single mothers, whom he characterizes as being the most vulnerable members of our society outside of the extreme elderly. "They get run over. It's a free-fire zone on them," he says. "Extreme wealth, privilege and social standing may be no protection. Dinny was a hunter. Joan was the biggest game in town."

Phillips also claims to be the first person to have done something to stop Shah.

"I am not criticizing anyone, but no one did anything about Dinny Shah until I came along," he says. "I put a stop to Dinny. He's a master of getting out of things and I wrote a book about him. I knew of nothing else to do."

Perdue scoffs at that idea. "Mr. Phillips sounds as pathological as his client," he writes in an e-mail to the Press. "We were the ones suing Shah and exposing his evils. We were the ones cooperating with authorities. We were the ones trying to navigate his financial house of mirrors. Phillips can try to rewrite history, but he was the one defending Shah in court." — John Nova Lomax

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