As reported yesterday by the WSJ Law Blog, U.S. District Judge Neal Bixler sentenced Dickie Scruggs to five years in prison, calling Scruggs’s attempt to bribe a state court judge, reprehensible.
The ultimate basis of law is consent. If citizens lose faith in the judicial process, if they become cynical about whether the process is fair or fixed, one risk is that in ways small and large people may feel justified in acting outside the law.
The crime for which Scruggs will spend five years in prison – attempting to bribe a judge – reminds me that most law is practiced in private. For all the criticism and scrutiny that the legal profession receives, it is worth remembering that it – the scrutiny and criticism – is based only on the very small percentage of lawyering that becomes public and even then, not all the relevant facts are known.
With Weiss, Lerach, Scruggs and the Fen-Phen lawyers in mind, one wonders – at least I wonder – whether their conduct is at all representative of what other lawyers (and judges?) do in private or whether their conduct is an aberration, rare as a hen’s tooth.
I hope it is an aberration. I trust it is an aberration. My experience – none of it the high profile, big money cases like those Scruggs, Weiss, and Lerach handled – is completely reassuring. But I would not be honest if I said that I did not feel some measure of doubt. Yes, the system worked. They were caught and are being punished. But, most law is practiced in private and by their conduct, Weiss, Lerach and Scruggs among others, have given the rest of us some reason to doubt. That is a terrible thing to have done to the legal profession and to the judicial process.