Sunday, February 28, 2010
I have eaten at La Loggia once (on a client's dime). The food was excellent. But I try to avoid the place at all costs. To me, it is nothing more than a place to be seen by the courthouse power elite, to rub elbows with judges and kiss their asses. In other words, a paean to fakery and insincerity, a public display of sycophancy and phoniness that proves the point that the spirit of Eddie Haskell is alive and well in the Miami legal community. I witness the glad-handing on an almost daily basis because I do my filings with the clerk at 12 30 so I do not have to wait in line in the morning. Walking down the courthouse steps on Flagler, there is a daily fixture across the street: Judge Jose Rodriguez, cigar in hand, holding court a la Swifty Lazar at Spago's in Hollywood a generation earlier. Rodriguez has a permanent table where he eats daily. His presence is very public. You cannot walk by the restaurant or go inside without seeing him and, if you are a lawyer, saying hello to him. Now I like Judge Rodriguez. He is a no BS kind of guy. Probably one of the better judges in the building. But there is something odd about a judge placing himself at the center of the lunchtime legal crowd every day. Now one might say that all of this glad-handing is harmless and probably contributes to a certain collegiality among lawyers and judges, no different from the countless bar association functions that one sees in the DBR every week where judges and lawyers are photographed together. Perhaps. But what really struck a chord in my mind was a piece in the DBR this week about Lewis Freeman. I received a call from a good friend who was shocked about Freeman's conduct. Her reaction was along the lines of "another crooked lawyer." And she was right. Freeman, by his own admission, stole $2.6 million. According to his lawyer, the reason for the conduct centered around "lifestyle" issues. That is a polite way of saying that he pilfered money for no reason other than avarice. But what I found fascinating about the article was a quote from Freeman's lawyer. Here is the exact quote from the DBR:
'Josephs said he is particularly sad that Freeman will be remembered for his crime and not the many good things he did for the community. Josephs said he went to La Loggia with Freeman after it became public that he was being investigated. “I gained a lot of respect for this town that I thought I had lost when judges, lawyers and everybody else who had the opportunity to turn their back on him came up and hugged him,” Josephs said. “Everybody else falls every once in awhile.”
Now I am as sympathetic towards people who go astray as anyone and am willing to cut someone a break, but this quote and the scenes it invokes are a little bit troubling. Think about it. You are a judge who appointed Freeman to oversee the misappropriation of very large sums of money. You trusted him to be honest. He violated that trust and did it over and over. About that there is no dispute. So you happen to run into him at La Loggia. What do you do? Tell him he is a disgrace? No. Walk away to avoid a nasty confrontation that he took you for a fool? No. You embrace him and wish him well. Am I missing something here? If I miss a discovery deadline or mis calendar a hearing, I get sanctioned and humiliated in front of my colleagues in open court. But if you are part of the "club" and steal $2.6 million, you are treated no different than if you had a moment of weakness and paid that 23 year old hottie $200 to polish your apple at 2 am in the back seat of your car after you had one too many bourbons. I just don't get it.