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In Oakwood, California, police raid the Argus Bookstore, which has been selling The Seven Minutes , a new, second edition of a book banned during the 1930s . Under orders from District Attorney Elmo Duncan, the bookstore's day manager, Ben Fremont, is arrested on an obscenity charge. Phil Sanford, who has recently taken over from his father the company that publishes the book, hires lawyer Mike Barrett to handle Ben's case. During negotiations with Elmo, Mike points out that the book, which is not hardcore pornography, has received artistic commendations. Although he has no personal objection to the book, Elmo is feeling political pressure from wealthy Olivia St. Clair and her Strength Through Decency League. He and Mike compromise by allowing Ben to plead guilty in exchange for a token fine and suspended sentence, which will result in the book being banned in Oakwood, but available in the rest of the county. Afterward, Elmo explains to Luther Yerkes, the millionaire supporting his plans to run for senator, that he needs a bigger issue than convicting a bookseller to win votes. Meanwhile, George Perkins violently injures and rapes Sheri Moore in the presence of the emotionally unstable teenager Jerry Griffith. When Jerry is arrested for the crime after his wallet is found at the crime scene, the police chief calls Elmo, whose political party is heavily supported by Jerry's wealthy father Frank, and mentions that The Seven Minutes was found in Jerry's car. Luther immediately recognizes that The Seven Minutes is the "key issue" Elmo needs to further his political career. Despite Jerry's insistence that he did not hurt Sheri, the older men, with Frank's approval, scheme for him to plead guilty, essentially putting the book on trial for inciting a young man to commit a sex crime. Only one person believes in Jerry's innocence, his cousin Maggie Russell, who lives at the Griffith house. After Elmo reneges on their agreement, Mike and his partner, Clay Rutherford, meet with Phil to discuss a new defense built on proving that the author, the late J. J. Jadway, intended to write serious artistic fiction and ask Christian Leroux, the publisher of the first edition, to testify to its artistic integrity. When Oakwood librarian Rachel Hoit, who opposes the League's censorship attempts, tells Mike that Perkins is a friend of Jerry, Perkins denies it and feigns disapproval of rape. Meanwhile, Cardinal McManus offers Elmo the assistance of Father Sarsatti, the priest in charge of the Vatican's classified information about the book. At a Strength Through Decency League rally, Elmo gives a fiery speech about decadence and refers to Constance Cumberland, a famous retired actress who is seated on the dais with him, as a person who represents a time of higher morals. Mike is attending the rally with his fiancée, Faye Osborn, the daughter of a prominent television executive who is a major donor to Elmo's political party. When he spots Maggie leaving the premises, Mike tries to talk to her, but she rebuffs him. After psychiatrist Dr. Trimble, who was hired by Luther, reports that Jerry's behavior indicates conflicting emotions about the rape, Luther has television newscaster Merle Reid film an interview with Jerry. After goading Jerry into losing his composure, Reid pointedly warns his viewers about "killer books." Trimble, who had opposed the interview, then resigns over Reid's tactics. Reid's national broadcast inflames the public and incites Sheri's father to accost Mike. While trailing Jerry, Mike sees him argue with Perkins at a nightclub and then follows him to a parking garage, where he prevents Jerry from committing suicide. Later, at the hospital, the grateful Maggie agrees to talk to Mike, and after telling him about a housekeeper who worked for the family, confides that she considers The Seven Minutes a "beautiful book." Despite her growing attraction to Mike, she cuts off further communication to avoid a conflict of interests. The next morning, Mike meets with the housekeeper, who agrees to testify about the troubled atmosphere in the Griffith household. However, Faye, who resents Mike's involvement in the case, sabotages his progress by reporting it to her father and then breaks up with Mike. Soon after, Clay reports that the housekeeper refuses to testify and that Leroux has been paid to testify against the book. In addition, potential evidence, in the form of letters outlining Jadway's literary vision, mysteriously disappears when it is bought by an imposter posing as Mike. After an intruder breaks into the law office and knocks out Mike, the lawyer discovers that his phones have been monitored. For the trial of California vs. Fremont, Luther hires several witnesses to denounce The Seven Minutes , among them, an eccentric publisher, Paul Van Fleet, who reveals an incriminating, secondhand anecdote about Jadway told by literary scholar Dr. Hiram Eberhart. Farther Sarsatti reports that the Catholic Church considers the book immoral, and Leroux claims that other countries have banned the book. After a statistician provides testimony about the "average woman," smug Mrs. White, supposedly representing the average housewife, claims the book is "sickeningly obscene." That evening after the court recesses, Clay realizes that details in the Eberhart anecdote occurred after Jadway's reported death. Suspecting that Jadway is alive, Mike flies to New York to interview Eberhart, who refers him to Jadway's friend, poet O'Flanagan. Although evasive with Mike, O'Flanagan mentions Cassie McGraw, Jadway's alleged girl friend. Believing that she can find Cassie, Maggie makes a deal to look for her if Mike will agree not to cross-examine Jerry. In court, under Elmo's questioning, Jerry admits that The Seven Minutes sexually aroused him, but when Mike declines a cross-examination, the surprised judge declares a recess. After discovering Maggie's involvement with Mike, Frank throws her out of his house, but she sneaks back in to retrieve a postcard from a friend reporting Cassie's whereabouts. Mike flies to the Chicago sanitarium mentioned in the postcard, but finds that Cassie is too senile to help him. However, he obtains a lead from a nurse, who tells him that Cassie receives flowers from an Oakwood florist every year on her birthday. Maggie, who knows the florist, learns that the flowers are from Constance. Maggie then visits Constance, who tells her that Cassie was her former secretary and complains about the way Frank, a longtime acquaintance, has treated Jerry over the years. In court, Mike calls Constance to the stand, where she eventually reveals that she wrote The Seven Minutes under a pseudonym to protect her film career. Explaining how the book's seven chapters reflect the seven minutes it takes for a woman to have an orgasm, Constance says she wrote the book to describe the woman's point of view during sexual intercourse in order to help the love of her life, an impotent man. With the book, she had hoped to liberate people like Jerry from fear, guilt and shame. Constance states that she has recently talked to Jerry, who confided to her that Sheri wanted to make love with him, but, being impotent, he was unable to complete the act. After eliciting Constance's testimony, Mike wins the case. Following the trial, Constance tells reporters that O'Flanagan wrote a fake obituary for "Jadway" and Cassie arranged a memorial service for her. In the parking garage, Elmo congratulates Mike, but then haughtily claims that the book is a dangerous influence and that he intends to prosecute Jerry as an accomplice to the rape. Equally inflamed, Mike calls Elmo a hypocritical opportunist, who connives for the benefit of himself. Later, in the car, Maggie says that she and Constance talked to Jerry, whose revelation that Perkins was the rapist convinced her to testify. At Maggie's suggestion, Mike proceeds swiftly to his apartment, where they intend to have an intimate victory celebration.