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Pointless punishment

December 27, 2021

If you want to punish someone for ignoring orders, does it make sense to issue more orders? No, it doesn't.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

Punishment shouldn’t encourage a repeated crime. And yet it can when judges don’t pay attention to what they’re punishing.

I bring you an odd ruling in a lawyer-discipline case from the Supreme Court of South Carolina in which a a fellow named George Constantine Holmes was disbarred. It seems that Holmes pleaded guilty in 2003 to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Yes, you read that right — 2003. The indictment was sealed, and the state’s rules at the time did not require lawyers to self-report serious crimes. (Note: This is logical since if you’re a serious criminal, you’re not going to report yourself anyway. For some reason, the rule in South Carolina was pointlessly changed in 2010 to require criminal honesty.)

In 2016, someone snitched and anonymously reported the sealed conviction. There’s got to be a fascinating story behind that, but the South Carolina Supreme Court didn’t reveal it. They probably don’t know the story — but there’s someone out there exposing sealed indictments and no one seems to care.

Anyhow, Holmes got suspended 13 years after his secret crime and three more years later was ordered to file an affidavit to respond to the charges. He did neither. The state Supreme Court got around to hearing the case this year (15 years after the crime) and served Holmes with a notice of hearing. He didn’t respond.

This is clearly not someone who cares about responding to discipline charges. In fact, there’s no indication that he’s even practicing law. It turns out that in 2017, he got busted again after police found 305 pounds of marijuana at his house and a warehouse.

So what does the state Supreme Court do? It disbarred the guy and ordered him to file an affidavit and surrender his certificate to practice law.

Raise your hand if you think that’s going to happen. Expect another hearing in a decade or so on the penalty for not surrendering the certificate.

Side gigs. Drug dealing, of course, is a sensible side gig for lawyers with criminal and/or stressed clientele. There are, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, other more legal services that law firms, hard-pressed for revenue, can supply.

It especially makes sense if your service, like drug dealing, is specifically tailored to the needs of your clients.

For example, you can set up a dating service for your divorcing clients. Call it Legal Tinder.

A math tutoring service for clients with tax problems would avoid future tax problems.

Estate planning clients should be interested in philosophy of life and death courses.

Clients with property damage would benefit from inhouse contracting.

There are so many possibilities. Use your imagination and be attentive to your clients’ needs.

Undress code. As an unfashionista, I’ve always thought dress codes were a little weird. I guess sometimes they make sense, but some dress rules are a bit weirder than others.

Case in point: a woman recently filed a federal civil rights suit against the Chicago Transit Authority for insisting that she wear pants. No, she didn’t want to be nude on the job. But, as a member of the Apostolic Church, she couldn’t wear pants or slacks. Instead she asked to be allowed to wear a skirt reaching below her knees.

She thought all was fine but after passing an exam and being hired as a customer service assistant, “Plaintiff was informed that the CTA could not honor the already agreed upon accommodation, because if she wore a skirt, Plaintiff’s legs would be bare and that this was somehow a safety hazard. Plaintiff responded that her legs would not be bare because she would either wear tights under her skirt or the high socks required by CTA.”

It didn’t matter. She was, allegedly, fired anyway.

Don’t look at me. I just report this stuff. My guess is the CTA wants its customer service staff as sexy as possible to distract complaining riders. It’s hard to complain when you’re staring at legs.

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