“He’s Suffered Enough”: Ethical Lawyering, Dubious Ethics

Attorney Barry Wilson is undoubtedly doing his job, and it is a tough one: arguing for the justice system to do less than throw the book at Boston’s disgraced former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, who richly deserves it. This is the lawyer’s sacred duty to a client that makes the profession the butt of jokes and the object of contempt, but it is an ethical and systemic necessity.  It also can be stomach-turning in cases like Turner’s. All Wilson has in his defense arsenal is the hoary “he’s suffered enough” argument. It is always ethically dubious, and this time it boarders on ridiculous. 

Turner is a unequivocally corrupt former civil rights leader who was suspected of using the trust of his community to set up lucrative bribes. He was finally caught when he was videotaped while accepting a $1,000 bribe to push approval for a proposed nightclub in Roxbury, Mass.  Wilson argued in his sentencing memorandum to U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock that Turner’s conviction on public corruption charges and his expulsion from the City Council has already dealt the 70-year-old a “catastrophic” financial blow, since he lost his $87,500 councilor’s salary and his pension—not to mention all those future bribes he was counting on, though Wilson understandably neglected to mention that part. Poor Turner also loaned his campaign committee $175,000 of his own money over the past 11 years, Wilson explained, and he is unlikely to ever get that money back.

Wilson pleads that his client already has suffered “a life-altering experience”—yes, being stopped from following your chosen profession as a public salaried crook will have that effect— and is asking for a term of supervised release, rather than incarceration. He faces three to 35 years in prison.  A jury convicted Turner in October of attempted extortion and making false statements to the FBI in connection with the bribe, which was handed over by a Boston businessman who had turned  undercover FBI informant  Wilson argues in his memorandum that there is “no support that his office was up for sale”, though the bribe proved Turner was eager to sell it. The fact is that where there is one bribe, there are almost always many. It isn’t the amount that matters so much, it is the betrayal of trust.

Wilson’s argument is one that would excuse many criminals from punishment. Society correctly shuns those who reveal themselves as lawless and willing to harm others for their own benefit; they lose jobs, friends, reputation, and prospects for the future. Bad conduct has consequences, but consequences are not the same as punishment. Wilson’s argument would lead to a system in which the criminals who were trusted most will escape punishment, a system in which the farther a criminal falls, the better off he will be. Yes, powerful and accomplished individuals who use their positions to break the law lose a lot when they are caught. Good. And they should go to prison for longer terms than the small-timers, because their betrayal of society was worse.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: Wilson is also arguing that Turner is a victim of “selective prosecution” because he’s black.

Hey, it’s worth a shot. The guy is just doing the best he can.

2 thoughts on ““He’s Suffered Enough”: Ethical Lawyering, Dubious Ethics

  1. Great article.

    I have 2 nagging doubts though. First is with “The fact is that where there is one bribe, there are almost always many.” I don’t see that aspersion is necessary or supported. Most killers plan what they do, so you likely planned it as well.

    Second, I haven’t follow the story, but from the details listed, this kind of sounds like a setup. If the developer and congressman were talking bribe before the FBI became involved is different than the developer suggesting the idea while already working for the FBI. There does appear to be guilt, but unequivocal corruption is not supported by the facts listed. If there is more unlisted evidence, I’ll wilfully withdraw this complaint.

    • Jack is essentially saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”. He’s also citing a truth much supported by history. If a professional politician, at the age of 70, can take a “small” bribe of $1,000 that readily (or any bribe under any conditions) it bespeaks of a long engrained habit of doing this. Nor does it greatly matter if he was “set up”. If one is inclined toward taking bribes as a matter of course, one does so when offered.

      This man made two mistakes common of the political criminal which other professional criminals would shun. They are commonly expressed as:

      1. “There is no honor among thieves.” If someone reveals himself as a fellow criminal by offering a ready bribe, don’t trust that he has no other intentions, such as blackmail… or being an informant, with or without legal sanction.

      2. Never steal anything small! This guy was so blatantly corrupt that he risked his entire lucrative set-up (and lost it!) for a lousy one grand.

      Not only is he a corrupt elected official who betrayed his trust to many thousands of people, but he’s also stupid! Criminally stupid.

      Your ongoing obsession with petty legalities as an excuse for corrupt behavior is noted, TGT. BTW: I just noticed your now-days old reply to me as to the child exploitation question, which you expressed by a similar method. I’ll address that when I can find the time!

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