Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Friday, August 12, 2005

There was a sentencing on before our Rule 26 conference; I was there early, and watched as the courtroom filled with family and friends. This was an affluent looking crowd, or at least upper middle class, and I really couldn't get a fix on what the crime might be. The gallery ranged in age-- some older than I am, some younger. When I want people in court I tell them to dress the way they would if they were going to church. (Depending, sometimes I say, "You are coming to my church-- please dress the way you would expect me to if I were coming to yours.) Perhaps this message wasn't conveyed to these people, or perhaps foundation garments are not what one wears in the houses of worship attended by these people. And flipflops-- I think flipflops are fine, in their place, but what sort of person gets up in the morning and thinks, "I've got to go to a sentencing at Foley Square today. I think I'll wear this haltertop, and these flipflops,"? I mean, fine if you want to, and I didn't mind the view, but it did seem a bit odd.

Not that it would have made much difference. In the usual way of these things the first few minutes were a confusing goulash of statutory citations and references to the record, but gradually it became clear. This was a crooked pharmacist, who had been, inter alia, charging insurers and Medicaid, for refills that had not been filled. He was obliged to pay "restitution" (actually probably not-- there didn't seem to be any way to tell who should get the money, so it will go to the US Treasury's General Fund) of $750,000 bucks. This tells me that he was doing this a lot, and probably for a long time. He'd sold his business, and his fraud meant that the operation had been somewhat overvalued-- he settled the civil action by the buyers for several million, but he was still north of $10 mil on the transaction. In other words, not to put too fine a point on it, and excuse me, Mom, he was a greedy fuck. His lawyer did the best he could with what he had, and argued that he was not a greedy fuck, and had in fact been a pillar of the community, and a devoted family man. He is 65, with a history of heart trouble, and a bad family history, including a twin brother who'd keeled over five years ago. Apparently a number of people had written letters on his behalf, but his lawyer didn't mention any letters from ay sort of clergy, which, come to think of it, maybe accounts for the lack of bras among his the people who came to support him. Since the shitrain started, he's been volunteering for Meals on Wheels, but other than that the stuff cited by his lawyer was along the lines of how one time he'd noticed that someone's antidepressant medication didn't seem to be helping, and had alerted the guy's doc. Counsel said that this "went above and beyond" what most people would have done, but it is hard for me to see it that way. They wanted home confinement, and community service (which they kept calling "volunteering"-- it ain't volunteering in a judge says you gotta).

I mean, I don't know. You see something like this, and you think "Maybe he's a great guy." But I really didn't hear anything about what a great guy he was-- he sounded like a guy that set up a pretty elaborate scheme to steal, even though he had loads of money, and I didn't hear anything that suggested to me that he'd ever done anything for anybody, except maybe help his children out when they were having money troubles. Frankly, he came off as a greedy, crooked son of a bitch, and when the judge very politely told him he'd be in stir for the next 41 months, it seemed about right to me.

Still, it was interesting, and a good reminder to be good. I never see someone sentenced but I think, "That could happen to me," and although this particular offense is not something I'm every likely to get caught at, what with not being a pharmacist and all, one thing I've noted about the system is that once it gets you, you get ground pretty fine. Stay good means more than "Don't do illegal things"-- it means that when the chips are down, you are going to want more than a room full of daughters- in-law wearing flipflops -- you'll want some people to talk about the serious good that you've done. Six months of Meals on Wheels after the feds are on to you won't get it done.

They were still in the courtroom after we met with the judge in the robing room for our conference, some red-eyed, some angry. I was moving poorly-- I'd jammed my ankle earlier, and was hauling my suit bag as well as my briefcase, but none of them moved out of the way for me, and the defendant stood in the elevator, blocking the door and preventing me from getting in while he talked to someone. He seemed pretty shaken up-- I wonder if he really thought he wasn't going to get time? One of the guys that rode down with him was angry: "I can see the headlines, 'P_________ F____, Pharmacist Gets 41 Months"-- that's what she was thinking." Yeah, you bet. This federal court judge was thinking about the ink she was going to get on this.

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