August 31, 2010
Roger's Reputational Dilemma
As expected, Roger Clemens pled not guilty on Monday to charges of perjury, false statements, and obstruction of Congress. He is represented by two of the ablest white collar criminal defense attorneys in the country—Rusty Hardin of Houston and San Diego’s Mike Attanasio. I know these men and their work. They are stellar lawyers.
The government asked Judge Reggie Walton to make Clemens surrender his passport in order to reduce the risk of flight. Honest. They really did. Give me a break. Walton didn’t buy it.
It is generally assumed that Clemens could have taken five before Congress and was therefore foolish to testify and subject himself to possible perjury charges. I’m not completely convinced of this, since the activity Congress was investigating at the time appears to have been beyond the statute of limitations. How can you incriminate yourself by truthfully admitting to something that you can no longer be prosecuted for?
At any rate, Clemens appeared without a subpoena, so there was no question of him not testifying. His attorneys will be able to argue to the jury that he had everything to lose and nothing to gain by appearing and testifying. Ergo, he must have been telling the truth. This can be a powerful argument in skilled hands, particularly in front of a DC jury, but it is better not to be forced to make it at all-better not to be indicted in the first place.
Roger's dilemma is the dilemma of the client with exposure, even limited exposure, who cannot or will not do the prudent thing and shut the hell up. It is best not to testify under oath, or even talk to the government, if you face potential criminal prosecution. Just ask Martha Stewart. But some high profile clients cannot take the perceived damage to their reputations involved in invoking the privilege. Clemens had the example of Mark McGwire in front of him. McGwire’s reputation was permanently and severely damaged by his refusal, on Fifth Amendment grounds, to answer a Congressional panel’s questions.
I know, I know; the privilege protects the innocent as well as the guilty. But nobody believes that in television land. Had Clemens publicly invoked the privilege, he would have been scarred for life. And he is not some dime-a-dozen, $40 million bonus CEO. He is one of the immortals.
The reputational dilemma is not confined to high-profile clients or the decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment. As a prosecutor, I saw defendants refuse to take plea offers, including misdemeanors with no jail time, because they could not admit wrongdoing to a spouse or child. It is a reminder that the strategy and tactics of criminal defense work are not always confined to logical analysis. The human, emotional element is ever present.
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To misquote Rick James, ego is "a hell of a drug."
Posted by: Steve | Aug 31, 2010 7:13:08 AM
As a former federal prosecutor turned white collar defense lawyer, I agree. As you mentioned, for regular men and women facing prosecution and possible (dare I say probable in most instances) conviction for this and similar types of crimes, this reputational dilemma extends no further than the living room and bedroom. For many, it's near impossible to look your spouse and children in the eye and admit wrongdoing.
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