Personally, I find few varieties of unethical conduct more nauseating than individuals of fame, position, power or influence who use that status to squeeze special privileges and considerations from ordinary citizens. From the cop who assumes that he won’t be charged for street grocer’s apple, to the judge who talks his way out of a speeding ticket, to the famous actress who tries “Do you know who I am?” when she’s stopped while driving drunk, this behavior warps justice, broadcasts unfairness, and saturates the culture with the toxic assumption of class and privilege, the idea that not only are the rich, powerful and famous subject to different and more lenient standards than the rest of us mere mortals, but that they deserve such treatment.
Ari Pregren, a Miami-Dade County prosecutor, was just fired from his job for embracing this tactic, and appropriately so. The fascinating aspect of the incident for me is that I am certain that his miserable conduct does not rise to level that the legal profession would deem professional misconduct. In Pregren’s case, this means that a state prosecutor who uses his position to get special consideration at a strip club is an unethical jerk, but not necessarily an unethical lawyer, at least in the eyes of the legal profession.
Assistant state attorney Pregren flashed his badge to claim free admission for himself and two companions into Goldrush, a Miami establishment specializing in presenting the art of comely ecdysiasts. While enjoying the club, Pregren later used his position to avoid paying the required 15% credit card surcharge on lap dances. Apparently the club’s dancers are tiny enough to perform on laps.
A week passed; Pregren returned with the same attitude and cost cutting strategy. This time he was rude about it, and the owner of the club complained to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Initially Pregren denied the accusation, until he was shown a security video of him using his work badge as a “Get Into Strip Club Free” card. This prompted him to reverse course and to write a pitiful apology letter (Level 6 on the Apology Scale), promising never to misuse his credentials again, and professing absolute shame and remorse. One problem with the letter, and there are many, is that the “I don’t know what I could have been thinking” line is less convincing when it means “I don’t know what I could have been thinking twice.“
Of course, he was fired. The reason his conduct constitutes cause was very well stated in his own letter. He misused his badge and authority for personal gain, and embarrassed his office. Lying to his superiors twice would have also been sufficient to get him canned.
Still, by the standards of the legal profession, Pregren’s conduct probably wouldn’t trigger the obligation of a fellow lawyer in Florida to report an attorney for “a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer.” He didn’t break any laws, and while lying to a superior in an employment context is dishonesty, it’s not enough to prove a propensity to lie. Fitness as a lawyer doesn’t come into play, because visiting a strip club isn’t the practice of law. While I wouldn’t trust this guy in another law enforcement position, transgressions outside actual legal practice have to be extensive to trigger legal discipline. The fact that this was strip club is irrelevant, ethically and in relation to potential discipline. It’s a place of business, that’s all. Pregren would have been guilty of exactly the same ethical violation if he had flashed his badge to get into “Disney on Ice” and to get a free “Little Mermaid” T-shirt. Would the Bar discipline him for that? I doubt it.
Nevertheless, Ari Pregren’s prospects for a successful legal career are not bright.
Facts: Miami New Times, Above the Law
Graphic: Portland Pulp
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at email@example.com.
7 thoughts on “The “Do You Know Who I Am?” Prosecutor and the Strip Club”
While I tend to agree with the overall thrust of your argument regarding the professional ethics of attorneys in this case, I have to ask about your statement “He didn’t break any laws…” It seems to me that using his state ID to enter the premises to conduct an official interview without paying a cover charge is a perfectly reasonable use of the ID. On the other hand, using the state ID to strong arm his way into the site without paying the cover charge and avoiding the 15% surcharge is theft under the cover of official authority.
Seems to be an illegal act to me, though it probably would be a minor theft. Could you clarify your thoughts on this aspect?
I’d have to scour the statutes to prove it, and who knows, maybe there’s a law somewhere. I am dubious, though. All he is doing, factually, is making an argument that his status justified a discount. If he isn’t explicitly threatening (extortion) or misrepresenting the law, then his “crime” is “being an asshole.” The establishment could say no. Then what is he going to do? Until he leaves without paying without the establishment’s consent, he hasn’t broken any laws—any reasonable ones, that is.
There would be plenty of evidence available to convict him of “assholery”. I also noted that when he wrote that terrible apology, he was still thinking that maybe he could keep his job.
I think that if someone in law enforcement flashes a badge and demands something for free or discount, he is implicitly threatening the establishment. With the wide latitude of law enforcement and their powers, it’s unreasonable to expect establishments to think anything different.
It is an implied threat, no doubt about it.
I initially disagreed with M. Marshall on this, but on review of applicable Florida Law I came across F.S. 212.313(6), it isn’t a crime but it is a specifically noted ethical violation which creates a duty to report. The law does vary and in some locations it would be a crime for a public official to misuse their position for personal advantage like this.
What’s not mentioned in this report is the FACT that he didn’t say he was an attorney, he told me he was a POLICE OFFICER, not once but several times he told me has was a “cop”. He flashed his badge while telling me this, after I asked to see his I.D. And not his badge is when it came to light that he was an attorney and NOT in fact a cop. Saying your a police officer when you’re not is not only crime enough to get you fired, but is also crime enough to get you arrested for impersonating a police officer. I was the door man who delt with this ego maniac both times he came there.