The lawyer, that goes by the name Bad Lawyer was sentenced last Thursday for the tax crime of attempted tax evasion.
The journey to this moment was a difficult one, and involved years of pain and suffering and secrecy. There was a legacy of childhood fear and dread; seeming escape; academic and professional achievement; personal and professional good works; and lots and lots of bad. Ultimately, the lawyer that goes by the name Bad Lawyer had crossed many lines, the most egregious were hardly the ethical and legal offenses that resulted in the history documented on Bad Lawyer over the last year; no, the bigger offenses were those that involved dishonesty, anger, rage, and self-seeking at the soul level. The toxic human, lawyer, businessman, father, and husband that I became meant that I went down a path that you should not take. It is a natural human tendency to minimize your responsibility for what you did or who you are, but I confess, I knew long ago that I was crossing lines of appropriate and ethical conduct that brought me to where I am today. I did not know whether my good works and my good intentions would save me; I hoped that they would--but, as I have said many times over the last year--I did what I did. I brought myself to this place of "disgrace" through my own actions and inaction; and, yes I knew that I was doing it.
I've talked somewhat about the familial sources of dishonesty, and corruption but I intend no excuse. I also had the exposure to moral and ethical training that I ignored. I became a thief of time, love, and material things.
I became an alcoholic, who knows, maybe 1982...out of sheer boredom. I got into some habits, the springs of which were already in place before I crossed over. By May of 1986 I was divorced from my first wife, sober and actively engaged in Alcoholics Anonymous. By then I was diagnosed or probably suffering undiagnosed with multiple psychological ailments including manic-depression or what is now called Bi-polar disease. I report these facts because a federal judge noted these facts on the record last Thursday at my sentencing. We throw these terms a lot; so that the language or terminology loses its salience, but in a very real sense these diseases have actual symptoms and given routine life stresses, persons laboring under these ailments do and react in ways that can be incredibly dysfunctional. These diseases don't commit crimes, in my case, I did--but, these diseases operated in my life to make the things I did or failed to do rational to me, if only in hindsight.
By 2001, I had fallen away from active participation in AA, and I was taking Celexa for depression and rage. My law practices were scatter shot, joint ventures often with the finest people in and around OurTown, and yet my fundamental negativity no doubt led to the ultimate disasters and failures that plagued me. Which is not to say that I lacked successes and even a philosophical vision, it's just that my core existentialism and illness meant that whatever achievements would ultimately turn to shit.
I raged against my religion, Roman Catholicism, the only real belief system I understood as a central system of ethics and belief. Everywhere I looked for a longtime, I saw only scoundrels and crooks. My negativity was a black hole--still is, if I let it be. If all I could see were scoundrels and crooks, perhaps because I was the scoundrel and crook. Business disaster after business disaster dogged me; when I did make money I was already in such a deep hole so that I sheltered or spent my income thinking that until I have "enough" I'll never be able to negotiate my way out of my pit. This sort of thinking is absurd, although it did not seem so at the time. I made and discarded what would have seemed to my parents, a fortune--without reporting the income to the authorities or paying my share of the taxes.
Many solo practitioners are in this situation, someone kindly pointed this out to me when my guilt was so awful that I was on the verge of suicide. Scratch many a solo professional of any sort and there will be as we say in the law "exposure." This is not to say: "everyone does it." They don't. This is to say that there is a lot of sickness and professional dysfunction and many of us need help.
As I related at the outset of my "blawg" in the "BSL"'s office (my wife's law firm where I had an "of counsel" role as an on-call litigator)--an associate angry over being called to account for sexually harassing my secretary purloined bank statements and cancelled checks from my office. It took little or no accounting genius to figure out that I was "laundering" my income through a trust account; and, it took less than what passes for normal intuition to guess that I was not reporting income or paying taxes. This associate reported my ethical and criminal lapses to the authorities, thereby, saving my life. This "angel." and I mean no sarcasm by labeling him in this way--saved me and maybe my family.
Despite my increasing bleak view of the world and unrealistic and irrational self-view I did not abandon faith or prayer. I continued to pray for myself, for my family, for my friends. Sometimes all I could muster was "Your Will!" Often I prayed only the "Lord's Prayer," the "Hail Mary," on a good day I could muster the Holy Rosary--often when I cycled many, many miles. And as Saint Teresa is reported to have said, "more tears are shed over answered prayers." My prayers have been answered in the descent that is manifest in the creation of the Bad Lawyer "blawg", my disciplinary suspension, a return to sobriety and effective mental health counseling; and finally my felony tax plea and sentencing.
I already described the plea, but I don't recall what I said, here on Bad Lawyer; and, I'm not going to go back to look, because it does not matter to me--but, entering the guilty plea was doubtless one of the most mind altering moments of my life. My brain felt like it was stabbed by a hot knife. When I stood in court, I felt as stripped of ego and self as any moment in my life. Academic and career achievements were gone, I was agreeing that I was a felon.
When you negotiate a plea deal prior to indictment you receive a "information." which is actually a digest of your criminal activities. It abstracts from your life activities only that portion which is activity which the government believes contributed to your criminal conduct or which actually was criminal conduct. You are forced to look at the sheer scale of your stupidity and I must say it was revelatory. Mostly "fair" the criminal information had a few minor things wrong; and one major inaccuracy. There was an attempt to implicate by inference the BSL. In fact just the threat of this implication ended any resistance that I had to embracing my sole responsibility. We have always maintained separate finances, filed taxes, separately, never owned anything jointly or held joint accounts of any sort. This may seem bizarre to you, but when the BSL came into my life I was already pursuing child molesters and in the early years there was zero support in the legal community for accusing a seemingly upright and prominent cleric or citizen of sexual crimes against children. So I was already being sued or being threatened with lawsuits. I knew in those years that I would have difficulty maintaining effective liability insurance or own property of any sorts. In a deliberate effort to insulate her from the consequences of this insane effort we never joined our financial lives. I gave her money as I had money and as she needed it--unfortunately, sometimes when I didn't actually have it. This decision was not criminal, but the criminal information and the earlier "threat" against the BSL implied that she conspired in my tax offense. She knew nothing.
Part of my insanity, negativity and anger was closely associated with the habit of not telling her my true financial peril, but not being able to tell her. I was unable to get help from the person closest to me. And she wanted to help me.
The wonderful, dear man, and great lawyer, Lester, helped me get the factual inaccuracies edited from the information and I signed the plea "deal."
At the Plea hearing, Judge P was fantastically respectful and decent. He asked me whether the Information was accurate since it was incumbent upon him to find a basis to accept that the "guilty plea"had a basis in fact. Having represented hundreds if not thousands of persons over the years who I merely wanted to say "yes" or "no," I found myself against my will not able to simply agree. I could not agree that the "information accurately reflected what happened." The Information was such an abstract of facts, reducing a period of time in my life to only the actions proving that I was a tax cheat. I told the Judge, that I had trouble agreeing that what the Information said portrayed what I did. My life and career was a whole lot more than a digest of these criminal acts which I admitted to--and, while I did not want to test his or any one's patience, I admitted the offenses but that the Information did not fairly describe my law practice or life.
I can't begin to describe the kindness with which Judge P, accepted this statement. He offered that I would have an opportunity to supplement the record with a sentencing memorandum and the pre-sentence report and andy letters or testimony I wished to offer. Judge P accepted my pleas and that hearing was over. Oh, one other thing, he granted me a "signature" bond. Since I, personally, have very little money at this moment in my life--this was good. I was handed over to the US Marshall's and still at this point I was doing pretty well, but then I turned around and I saw my wife in tears, and I crumbled. I wept. Whenever I think of her like that, I cry.
At no point before or afterwards was I handcuffed. I was taken into the sterile, familiar (from my summers in BOP internships) labyrinth of the federal courthouse jail, where I was "booked," urine tested, photographed, where my scars (plenty) and tattoos (none) were catalogued. The US Marshall employees were curt, professional, and I was out the door in an hour with instructions to report for pre-sentence services and a presentence investigation.
The Pre-Sentence process involves a "probation officer" in my case, "TJ", a real sweetheart of guy who while totally specific about my requirements has been genuinely positive and dead-on accurate about the process. At one point "TJ" made a surprise home visit. The house was a mess, but he looked at everything and everywhere--the BSL said, well he knows we aren't throwing money away on housekeepers (a luxury we had for many years.)
My pre-sentence investigation was performed by Kim W. This consisted of a very detailed interview, urine testing (supervised by her male colleague,) and an exchange of many multiple page forms which took me some time to complete.
While I was waiting in the lobby of Kim W's office with Lester (this lawyer-Saint, did not receive accept one cent from me, and who insisted on being present even though I asked him not to unnecessarily expend his time on this matter)--we watched Closed Circuit television of prison industry videos. I was admiring the khaki uniforms, and remembering from my Army years how comfortable these clothes are (as I recall , not very.) I wondered how my mild carpal tunnel and arthritic knees were going to hold up under the rigors of my prison work assignment. I contemplated the pleasures of losing my personal privacy and dignity and subsisting on a diet of prison offerings. Bearing in mind that I spent 3 years in the US Army and two summers working in federal correctional facilities--these are not abstract ideas. I know precisely what is in store for me, and rest assured I wallowed in fear and self-pity.
While this process continued I figured I legitimately looked at 14 months of actual incarceration. Given the benefit of the calculation of the "guidelines" I was informed that I was looking at a potential of 5 years and guidelines of 18-24 months. I would owe restitution and probably a $600,000 fine.
I turned 56 on September 16.
That morning, the family's pristine condition 2007 Toyota Camry was legally parked along the curb in front of the house. I use the car to commute to and from work. A drunk driver slammed into the rear of the car without any indication that she touched her brakes prior to impact. Asleep as usual on the third floor of our house, I thought I heard a gunshot. Maybe I heard her airbags discharging, maybe the collision. My wife was on the steps to my mancave at 3:20 AM to inform me of the accident and wish me a "happy birthday." We sat on the front porch making sardonic observations about life, and happy that the young woman who destroyed the family car had not been physically injured as she demonstrated by wobbling her way through the field sobriety test. The first thing I pulled from the Camry after prying the door open was my "Big Book." While tempted, I did not give the Alcoholics Anonymous text to the young drunk, I figure, by the Grace of God I will see her "on paper" in one of the meetings I go to as I go along. Later the BSL and Yehuda Dan, her Kabbalah teacher expressed the hope that the "car took [my pending] judgment."
Friends, Employers, Family, OLAP, and Alcoholics Anonymous
When my descent began, with a letter from disciplinary counsel indicating that my banking practices had been turned over to them by my wife's associate; followed by a visit from the IRS investigator--I had to to make an initial decision: while I didn't particularly feel like my life had much value and I thoroughly hated myself, was there anything at all worth living for? As bad as I felt and as fearful of being revealed, disgraced, and jailed--I knew how to do an inventory and I recognized that I had continued to value and be of value to my family and friends. If I were to survive I knew that I needed help; and that I needed to be totally honest. This I did.
I returned to Alcoholics Anonymous, I began this "blawg" and I told my family and friends every secret. When the disciplinary suspension happened, which surprised me and everyone who knew anything at all about the subject, but in hindsight the suspension seems absolutely appropriate; I was plunged into depression. Lester and I knew I had to proactively confront my tax status which my college-pal and long-time CPA, Steve, selflessly helped me complete and prepare to submit to an IRS revenue agent. This as you may know if you read Bad Lawyer was way too late.
My pal Ron, an IP pro and entrepreneur offered me a job in the week after my suspension, and through my "brother" Pat, an "in house" case management position was created in a law firm in downtown OurTown. This job has been my salvation in so many ways. My boss, Irving, is an old friend, and former colleague--he understands the minutiae of what I'm going through. Irving's parents are holocaust survivors, Irving had been a federal prosecutor, and he has a genuine understanding of judgement and mercy. I don't profess to understand the politics of this wonderful, talent-filled, crazy place I work at--but, my hiring caused a minor mutiny among the younger lawyers who understandably objected to the hiring of a controversial, disgraced guy like myself. Irving overruled the objections and I went back to work in February. I had the first W-2 income of my adult life, and health insurance for my family. I was a tax payer.
Early on, I was so humiliated by my situation that I declined all invitations to leave my office for fear of who-knows-what. Scorn, abuse? It was pure self-pity and ego; while not all gone, I frequently go out and about onto the Public Square. I meet and talk to former colleagues, and I answer all questions most of which come in expressions of empathy, support and concern. I was told that eventually I would have to account for the obvious, how is it that I stood in the Capital of OurState, at the Capitol and lifted my right hand and swore to uphold the laws and the constitution of OurState and US government. I'm ok.
My employer permits my active participation in Alcoholics Anonymous programming and OurState Lawyer's Assistance Programming. In the later program, I get mental health counseling, advocacy, and random drug testing. In the latter regard, I log onto a website every morning and learn whether I need to go to a medical lab and pee in a bottle--I don't drink and I haven't used an illegal substance since sometime in the early 1980s, but it is a minimal price to pay for all that I receive in exchange for participation.
My friends knew what I was up against and soon all my AA pals would know. I wrote letters to all my brothers and sisters and my Uncle apprising them of my situation. Then at the behest of my closest friends I began the daily grind of working a regular job, attending AA meetings writing this "blawg" and exercise. Everyday I asked myself what I could do to improve my conscious contact with God and do his will for me. I am convinced that the answer, in part, was to humbly and honestly ask others to help me in with my peril. Mostly this came in the nature of advice, and letters of support. Sometimes it was meals or coffee. People I had not spoken to in years, at least intimately, either sought me out or I sought out. I gave them the information about this "blawg" or a letter or email explaining my circumstance in the firmest and most blunt terms about my responsibility for my ethical and tax offense. When friends made excuses for me, I shot down their reasoning and rationale.
Not surprisingly as I went along, both before and after the plea a number of acquaintances have sought out my personal experience; and, as a consequence, I'm praying for others who are experiencing their own "Come to God" moments and by his Grace, avoiding my consequences. As I've said on this "blawg" many times, do not do what I did, but if you are in my situation, get active--address the issue head on. You may yet avoid my consequences, even if you don't have the money, now, to deal with the obligations. Don't wait, not even one day.
My sisters and many friends offered to write letters. A close friend who is a local "small law" judge wrote on my behalf. My AA sponsor and former AA running pals wrote, my former law partner, my boss, Irving, co-workers, a well-known political activist, my closest friends, new friends, my neighbor, former clients, former colleagues, my cyber pal Gayle, some of my morning coffee buddies, nearly two-dozen letters, some detailed accounts of various moments in my life and career, all incisive insights into my personality traits and, yes, shortcomings of character. I specifically, asked friends to not write them for me, and in fact not send me a copy of the letters unless they felt they absolutely had to; because I didn't want them to feel inhibited in being critical of me. This was essential, I wanted Judge P in considering whether to jail me or not, to think about every aspect of my character. I also viewed every letter, short or long, detailed or general, from my neighbor to the drunks at AA, to a highly-regarded professional--all these were invaluable not just as pleas for me, but for ME to make a connection with God and my family and friends, because the process itself is miraculous, not just the outcome.
The BSL has been a long time life partner, and admittedly it has rarely been easy for her or vice versa. As I said, there is very little we have held in common apart from two children that we absolutely adore and want nothing less than the best outcomes, spiritually, morally, and ethically. She has been a great mother, and despite all my adversity and mental illness, I've tried to be a good and certainly loving and supportive Dad. When my self-inflicted disasters began to hit, she became my champion. She dragged me off to a Kabbalah lecture where I met and hear Yehuda Berg speak about child slavery and being "fully conscious." I blogged about this at the time. Since that time I have been looking intently at the Torah, morality, and ethics with a new outlook. I attended Lag Ba-Omer, Shavuot, and Rosh Hashanah services; I observed the Yom Kippur fast. At the BSL's insistence I received federal court permission to travel to Washington, D. C. where I recorded my family name "in he Book of Life," and have the Shofar blown over the "judgments" against me. My friend Yehuda Dan told me that this would be the best year of my life, . . . if I was absolutely certain of that fact.
So everyday, I engaged in the paradoxical effort to "let go and let God," while asking myself each day where do I need to have the courage to change the things that I can change and should change. This is not easy when you are a Black Hole of negativity--which often, I am.
When this process began, it seemed interminable, but sentencing set for noon Thursday proceeded as scheduled. As time drew closer, I felt little if any resolve or resolution. I was anxious that I would lose the power of speech (I would be expected to speak and acknowledge my responsibility and remorse), and yet I could not stop weeping as I though about friend sand family. Then I remember riding my bicycle through the park and suddenly coming upon a large truck with a cartoon Moses arms outstretched showing me the way. I received many spiritual objects including the guardian angel that belonged to her Mother, a long time recovering alcoholic that I knew from years previous. The "Red String" that was tied on by Cindy months before was still on my left wrist, unbroken, while the BSL had gone through three, remarkable words were being said to me, and remarkable coincidences were occurring.
The BSL and I were waiting outside the federal courthouse on Thursday when Paul from OLAP appeared to be there to speak as an advocate, this on short notice when my long time psychologist inexplicably ignored requests to supply information. The BSL and Paul went into the courthouse, when Lester came into view. By then I had lost all power of speech and I was wondering how I could speak on my own behalf, this after a career of shooting my mouth off on every occasion, whether it was appropriate or not. Then it occurred to me, what if you were there when Jesus was crucified, would you be able to speak up for him? Say something for him? This idea, did not help except as it led to the next idea. Speaking on behalf of Jesus was way too grandiose, way too remote; but, but then I imagined that I'd be called upon to speak for my son, Will--could I tuck away my grief. It was in that thought that I regained something of my composure.
Let's face it, with all the good things that were said about me---and, may good things were said about me in letters to Judge P, partly because, I had done a number of good things in my career. I had helped a few people in my career--certainly, not unselfishly; nonetheless the sheer scale of what I did made prison probable. As the sentencing began, the Judge had just sent a man to prison for 2 years. I took my seat at the table next to Lester. The Judge began with calculating the "guidelines" finding that based on the pre-sentence investigation I earned reductions, I believe he moved me downwards towards 13-15 months. I had benefited from a glittering pre-sentence report from Kim W who was in the courtroom. Lester rose to speak at Judge P's invitation.
Lester gave what I would call the "full-Torah" argument actually addressing in the context of ancient teachings where I was in my life and career and what I had "deposited" through good acts in my life. He cited the descriptions of my life and career from my sisters, my employer, my accountant, my AA sponsors and my friends who Lester called "the salt of the earth." Then I was asked to speak.
I have spoken more eloquently at coffee, half asleep, than I did on this day. I certainly spoke more powerfully in court in situations that meant very little to me. But on this day, I spoke directly from my heart. I said that standing out in the lobby in the bright sunshine I could see across the city skyline to the gray federal building where on another occasion I stood uncertain about my future ready to take an oath to uphold the laws and the constitution and that I am reminded that I did that again in 1982 and in the chaos and stupidity that I fomented I repeatedly violated that oath and promise and that I was deeply ashamed and disgraced by my acts alone. I told him that this "consequence" that I choose to believe is a "revealed blessing" brought about through prayer, bringing to an end awful secrets that had caused me terrible pain and suffering. I said I was ready for whatever judgement and sentence that Judge P was prepared to impose, then I sat down.
The AUSA is a remarkable man, who I may write about at another point, but Mr. S. spoke very briefly and then only to remind the Judge that the view of the government and the IRS was that his sentence had to send a message to other professionals about the scale of my offenses and unethical machinations I was involved in in hiding my tax crime
When the Judge spoke he said that he had rarely received the sort and variety of materials provided to him from my employer, my family and my friends and others like OLAP. Judge P spoke approvingly of my accomplishments but then he indicated that a sentence of "probation" sent the wrong message. Judge P said his job in my case really turned on only one parameter, deterrence. "I have no doubt, you will never commit a further crime," he said. "But I have an obligation to craft a sentence that will deter, other professionals who might mistakenly believe that "I can do what [you] did' and get probation." So I am going to sentence you to . . ."
The entire time I was still hanging on. The entire time I have not let go, and as I was absolutely certain I was going to go to prison, as my wife in the back of the courtroom was sobbing, a miracle occurred. I let go. I was perfectly at peace, ready to go where God sent me.
" . . . 5 months incarceration to be served on home confinement, electronic monitoring, work release. continued [Alcoholics Anonymous meetings], 2 years of probation, and restitution to be negotiated with the IRS.]" Judge P added that he believed that I suffered from two diseases (Bi-Polar illness and alcoholism) that I didn't ask for and didn't deserve; that did not justify my offenses but which he believed contributed to the commission and perpetuation of the crime.
Who knows what the future holds. I am by the Grace of God, not going to prison. I self-report for home monitoring by the first of December, and I'll have my ankle bracelet off by the beginning of May. Provided I follow the rules. I intend to follow the rules.
Is there a way back to my license? I don't know. I would not have given you a nickle against a dollar bet prior to last Thursday. I don't know how I can make restitution, I don't know what further disciplinary action the OurState authorities will impose.
I live one day at a time. God is great! We live in an Age of miracles! I will be here at home in January when my daughter gives birth to the Baby boy that she is carrying.
I am profoundly grateful to Lester, Pat, the BSL, Steve, Irving, Yehuda Dan, Yehuda Berg, Gail, Marcia, Bill, Nancy, K, Fenton, Tim, Pat C., Paul and Cindy, John G, Carmen, Ron, Chris, all of my family, friends, former colleagues--yes, especially the guys who handed my checkbook over to the authorities, Paul, OLAP, AA, Gayle, the Court, my neighbors, and each and everyone's respective families. You will all remain in my prayers and prayers of my family.
I am grateful to you. Light.