Justice for Madoff

I said back in March that Bernard Madoff should get the death penalty for what he had done (a couple of months earlier, a commenter had made the same point). I didn’t mean that literally, of course, since under our laws financial fraud, no matter how large it is and how much damage it causes, is obviously not a capital offense. I was speaking of pure justice, of what Madoff deserves for the vast evil he did to thousands of people whose wealth he destroyed and futures he blighted.

In federal district court in Manhattan on Monday, a judge came as close to that “true” sentence as possible, sentencing Madoff to 150 years in prison, 137 years more than his life expectancy of 13 years. Madoff’s victims cheered, having all asked for the maximum possible sentence. Some observers disagreed:

James A. Cohen, an associate professor of law at Fordham, said he was troubled by the sentence. “I don’t think symbolism has a very important part in sentencing,” he said. “I certainly agree that a life sentence was appropriate, but this struck me as pandering to the crowd.”

By calling justice pandering, Cohen shows that he has no sense of justice.

In his statement to the court, Madoff showed some sense of justice, saying in part:

“I am responsible for a great deal of suffering and pain. I understand that,” he said, leaning slightly forward over the polished table, his charcoal suit sagging on his diminished frame.

“I live in a tormented state now, knowing of all the pain and suffering that I have created.”

We can’t know whether Madoff said this out of calculation or sincerely meant it, but I do not remember seeing a similar statement from a criminal defendant, and it’s exactly what a man about to be sentenced for a serious crime ought to say. This is what imprisonment is for, or ought to be for, that the convicted man spend his time in prison contemplating his wicked deeds and feeling painful remorse about them, not writing appeals and watching TV and receiving conjugal visits and building up muscle mass for his next crime. Note also that Madoff says he is having torments of conscience now for all the suffering he has caused. But he didn’t have such torments earlier, when, right up to the day of his arrest, he was remorselessly taking his clients’ money which was intended for investment and making it disappear from the earth. It was only his being arrested and put in prison that forced him to confront the reality of his crimes. Which, again, is exactly what punishment is supposed to be about. May Bernard Madoff spend the rest of his life, not feeling bad for himself, but feeling bad for what he has done to others.

- end of initial entry -

Edward L. writes:

Much more than James Cohen, the one who really evinced no sense of justice was Madoff’s lawyer Ira Sorkin, who insistently maintained that his client should have received a mere 12 year sentence (which would have left a highly realistic chance of his being released alive). Sorkin’s stance is a perfect example of argue-anything lawyer ethics.

We tend to admire lawyers a little too much in this country. The conventional tendency is to defend them on narrowly technical grounds (“Oh, he’s just doing his job”), irrespective of the moral substance of the positions they are advocating. I similarly remember glowing reviews of the late Charles Ruff, one of Clinton’s defense attorneys during the impeachment. I beg to differ, however; Sorkin’s stance says something about his personal beliefs and values.

LA replies:

Yes, I also noticed that when reading the article, and wondered: is he kidding? Does he think that there is the slightest chance in hell of his client getting 12 years? And I felt this showed an attitude of always going for the best conceivable thing for your client, no matter how absurd it may be, how unjust it may be, how much chutzpah it shows, and how little chance there is of getting it. It’s a barracuda mentality.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 01, 2009 01:45 AM | Send

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