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Given my practice as an ethics and compliance lawyer, white-collar defense lawyer, I am getting barraged with questions on the college scandal: Why would someone pay a bribe like this? Why would someone accept a bribe? Where are the people with integrity? Did they not think they would get caught? How did the colleges “let” this happen? How could it even happen?  

As I have discussed before, like in the Navy’s Fat Leonard scandal where literally hundreds of Navy personnel accepted bribes (liquor, cigar, travel, purses and prostitutes, for example) in exchange for giving a defense contractor classified and sensitive information – the question of why Navy officers who dedicated their lives to this country exchanged the security of this country for a good cigar and a bottle of champagne – will never be answered. (Read more in Navy Fat Leonard Scandal).  

Same in this scandal – why wealthy parents would pay bribes to get their kids into college and why testing officials and college coaches would accept these bribes will never be answered.  

Similarly, why would an impoverished teenager break into homes and steal computers and then threaten to punch their lawyer?

Again, as I said in the Fat Leonard scandal, at some quiet moment many of those who have been charged will ask themselves or their criminal defense lawyer the same question.  

That moment for a human being, whether a wealthy actress or an impoverished homeless kid, when they realize they made not only a bad choice but a criminal choice is heartbreaking – when they say: “I cannot believe I did that. Am I a horrible person? What is wrong with me? I have destroyed my life and my family. I feel bad for what I did.”     

They ask their lawyer these questions but, it is not the lawyer’s role to answer these question; and as a lawyer, I do not have the education or knowledge to answer these questions.  

Instead, in my contacts I have the names and numbers of phenomenal therapists, to include ones who work in the jails, who can work with someone facing this realization to come to terms with the situation.  

I give my clients the therapists’ information and urge them to call the therapist to start untangling the emotions they are feeling and to work with my client to come to terms not only with what they did but also what their future will hold. (And, there are those that never ask these questions of themselves…that is a whole different matter for the psychiatric professionals and well beyond this little blog post.)

For some people under investigation or charged with a crime, it takes a while for this realization to come; and it takes a while for them to face the situation with clarity.  

For lawyers representing people in this situation, it can sometimes mean learning that when the client was interviewed about what happened, they may not have been truthful; or when they were placed under a gag order, they just kept on tweeting; or it may mean explaining to the client that no – just because the government does not know about that particular set of emails or documents or whatever incriminating evidence it is, it does not mean they can be destroyed. The lawyer explains that to do so is yet another crime to add to what they already face. Sometimes, if they cannot come to grips with this, their lawyer withdraws their representation.   

But sometimes, the realization does come.  For example, when the impoverished homeless kid says to their lawyer: “I feel horrible for what I said to you; and the jail doctor told me I should say sorry for what I said. Please help me with my case.”

As you sit and read this, some of you may think who are these people who can pay bribes, break into people’s houses and then turn around and lie to law enforcement and ask their lawyer to deep six evidence? And, again – why would they do it?  

These people are all of us – all of us who are human – and sometimes we face challenges in life or sometimes we create our own challenges – either way we are all humans who make bad decisions because we get scared, we get insecure, we get greedy, we get jealous, we want power, we want influence, we want to impress someone, we are hungry, we are homeless, we want to help a friend, we need money, our family needs money, we want love, we get arrogant, we have mental health challenges, we get angry, we want revenge, we don’t know what is right or wrong, or we don’t have a friend, mentor, mom, dad, brother, sister, spouse, colleague, or lawyer to guide us away from a bad decision.

It’s the story as old as humankind – since we humans began writing things down, our stories have dealt with people engaging in wrongdoing; and despite all our work in trying to figure out why – we still don’t know… even those who do it sometimes don’t know why even after it’s done.  

But none of us are who we are at our worst moment in life – we are all much more; and we need to help each other be better by helping each other avoid those bad decisions or be there when the ramifications of a bad decisions play out.   

As Aristotle said over 2000 years ago:  

In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. The young they keep out of mischief; to the old they are a comfort and aid in their weakness, and those in the prime of life they incite to noble deeds.

Finally, remember there are times although accused…That human being did not even commit the crime at all.

The intersection of law, business, criminal activity crime and ethics: why do some companies violate the law? what happens when they do? what is ethical? how do we get corporations to follow the law? can lawyers help and, if so, what is the lawyer’s role? Stay tuned, we’re going to address all of these issues and more in When the Writ Hits the Fan.

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