Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Depressing Theology of Fraud

Judge Deborah Batts, a Federal judge who sits in the Southern District of New York, has allowed Jonathan Bristol, the disbarred former partner at Winston & Strawn who used his attorney escrow account to launder money in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme, to walk away with no prison time.

One would think that a partner at such a prestigious large international law firm who so misbehaved would get some slammer time, or, if not in a slammer-type facility, a year or two at a low- or minimum-security Club Fed institution such as Allenwood or Morgantown.

But Judge Batts bought off on the sob story arguments of Bristol's lawyer, Susan Kellman, who tugged at Batts's heart strings with the stories of Bristol's troubled childhood, and his treatments for depression, and the fact that his downfall wrecked his marriage and now leaves him living alone in a small 1-bedroom apartment with his dog.

Judge Batts agreed that Bristol's "hero worship" of now disbarred attorney-CPA Kenneth I. Starr (not to be confused with the former Solicitor General and Judge, Kenneth W. Starr), beclouded his better judgment.  Starr's retinue of celebrity clients such as Martin Scorsese, Uma Thurman, Lauren Bacall, Nora Ephron and Matt Lauer, reasoned Bristol, would enhance his law practice.

There are reasons for judges to impose below-range sentences.  Bristol did enter a plea deal, thereby sparing the time and resources of the courts and the U.S. Attorney's office.  And, in all fairness, it must be noted that Batts did hold Bristol jointly and severally liable, with Starr, for the $18 million that passed through his escrow account (but not until Starr kicks in past the $5 million threshold).

The chances of Bristol and/or Starr attaining such wealth are not something I would lay any wager to.  Bristol is certainly ruined financially in a huge way.

But what kind of lesson does the example of Jonathan Bristol teach?  That getting caught up in hero worship is a valid excuse?  If so, why not the followers of Charles Manson?  Will the next arrogant snot-nosed big New York law firm partner who gets caught in a big financial fraud (and there will be a next one, mark my words) invoke Bristol's excuses of hero worship?

Yes, I can see where Judge Batts's dispensation of mercy is sparing the penal system the strain of having to accommodate Bristol.  I can see where Bristol is already consigned to a life of suffering (though being privileged to live with a canine companion is certainly not anywhere near the hottest region of the netherworld inferno).  Yet, somehow, I am uncomfortable about the whole thing.

Adding to my discomfort is that the sentencing proceeding was done "before a jury box full of elementary school students from the Aaron School, a K-12 special education school in Manhattan, who were there to learn about the court system."  Which aspect of Bristol's sentence will those kids absorb, the financial ruination, or a sense of entitlement to mercy from the courts for yielding one's own locus of control to the hero one worships?

I am informed that tomorrow is a date of religious significance for my Christian friends.  In the event that I don't post anything further before then, let me now wish to all of you, a Merry one!!!



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