Every year, the Darwin Awards amuse us, in a blackly humorous way, with tales of people who improve the gene pool by getting themselves killed through acts of stunning stupidity, often seasoned by exquisite irony. To take a random example from 2011, Phil Contos was participating in a helmet-less high-speed motorcycle ride when he crashed and suffered fatal brain injuries. His brother was quoted as saying that Phil would do it again, too—and I’m sure he would.
A story out of Denver made me realize that faulty or entirely absent ethics alarms work in a similar way to ensure that the most shamelessly unethical among us get their just desserts. Such individuals are so lacking in comprehension of what is wrong with their conduct that they can’t resist publicizing it, thereby revealing themselves as blights on their communities and workplaces, and attracting appropriate treatment in response. Searching for an appropriate name for the ethics version of the Darwin Awards, I was irresistably drawn to Jeremy Hollinger, the Mobile, Alabama special ed teacher who last year mocked his challenged fourth graders on Facebook, and, for good measure, posted a photo of himself wearing one of his student’s protective helmets and making a moronic face. (Or, come to think of it, maybe that’s Jeremy’s normal face.) Thus I am dubbing the new distinction The Hollinger, and give the very first one to Susan Cole.
Judge Anne Mansfield was listening to the “Dave Logan Show” on 850 KOA radio in Denver last October as the madcap host took calls on the topic of avoiding jury duty. Avoiding jury duty is unethical, a breach of the duty of citizenship, so the show itself could have been a trap for unwary Hollingers. Or it just could have been an offensive celebration of irresponsible and dishonest behavior by a local jerk behind a microphone. Whichever was the case, Judge Mansfield heard a caller relate an episode that sounded oddly familiar, so she asked prosecutors to download a recording of the show from the KOA website.
“Char from Denver” proudly told Dave how she deliberately responded to her jury summons by coming to court wearing mismatched shoes, reindeer socks, a shirt with the caption “Ask me about my best seller,” her hair in curlers and excessive make-up to appear deranged. Judge Mansfield, not surprisingly, remembered her. She also remembered that when called for jury selection in a case that day, Cole told the judge, under oath, a sad tale about suffering post-traumatic stress from military service, being subjected to domestic violence, and ending up homeless.
Cole was excused from jury duty. Her perjured performance was so effective that she just couldn’t resist telling everyone about it, because the Hollingers of the world presume that everyone thinks self-serving unethical conduct is as acceptable and cool as they do.
It took a while, but prosecutors confirmed that Cole was the caller, and that Cole was the liar. An arrest warrant has been issued, and Susan Cole is being charged with first degree perjury and attempting to influence a public servant.
Just tell the next judge that you’re a Hollinger Award recipient, Susan. Maybe she’ll be sympathetic.