Lately, it seems like you can’t turn on your television without seeing news reports about politicians or public figures behaving badly. From Anthony Wiener’s obsession with sexting (Carlos Danger, anyone?), to San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s alleged repeated instances of sexual harassment, to Jesse Jackson Jr.’s embezzlement of campaign funds, the behavior runs the gamut from simply inappropriate to downright criminal. Clearly, success is no shield for scandal.
Unfortunately, the local news here in Maryland echoes what we’ve seen nationally. In the last year, the headlines have been full of stories about Anne Arundel County Councilman Daryl Jones’ conviction for federal tax evasion, Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold’s conviction for misconduct in office, Maryland Attorney General Civil Rights Chief Carl Snowden’s arrests for DUI and marijuana possession, and – most recently – Anne Arundel County Delegate Don Dwyer’s two DUI arrests – once on a boat, and now in a car.
Jackson, Jones, and Leopold were all sentenced to serve jail time for their actions, whereas Snowden got a judicial “slap on the wrist” (10 days in jail) for a probation violation and Wiener (because his actions were not a crime) will face trial in the court of public opinion. The proverbial jury is still out (actually, it hasn’t even been selected) in Del. Dwyer’s case, but there is already a vigorous debate about whether celebrities, politicians and public figures are subject to a different set of rules than the rest of us.
As a defense attorney with years of trial experience in Anne Arundel County, my prediction (and it is just that – a prediction – because I have no insider knowledge of the case and have not been retained by the defense) is that Del. Dwyer will be sentenced to serve some jail time for his DUI offenses. Why? In my opinion, the following factors will weigh heavily on the outcome:
- In the course of Del. Dwyer’s first DUI offense (boating while intoxicated), several people were injured as a result of his actions;
- The two DUI offenses occurred close in time to each other; and
- The two offenses occurred in the same county, which means his trial will take place within the same Circuit Court.
Del. Dwyer has already stated that an alcohol addiction led him to operate his boat while drunk, and has undergone counseling as a result. In addition to more counseling, I see an ignition interlock device (you know, the gadget that requires you to blow into a breathalyzer in order to start your car?) in his future. And in this case, I do think he will go to jail. Because the courts don’t always work quickly, Del. Dwyer is scheduled for sentencing on October 25 in connection with last year’s drunk boating incident. The fact that he has been arrested again for DUI between the time of his first arrest and the time of his sentencing means he will most likely be sentenced to serve time in jail.
Regardless of the sentence handed down by the Court, Del. Dwyer is already losing the battle of public opinion. After his first DUI arrest, he admitted to being an alcoholic and asked for the public’s forgiveness, and it seemed for a time that he would be granted just that. Now, any goodwill that he created by admitting to his addiction and apologizing publically seems gone and there have been numerous calls for his resignation, both from voters and from some of his colleagues.
I can’t say whether celebrities and politicians are truly treated with kid gloves when it comes to the judicial system because the facts of every case are so unique. However, I CAN say that when public figures seem to get off lightly, the quality of their defense very often has a lot to do with it. Celebrities, politicians and public figures can usually afford to hire top notch attorneys and fund a vigorous defense.
The phrase “you get what you pay for” comes to mind here, but it’s important to note that money doesn’t necessarily buy you a better lawyer. Rather, it buys you a lawyer who can afford to focus exclusively on your case, and your case alone. I know lots of great attorneys who serve in the public defender’s office and they could go toe to toe with some of the most expensive private attorneys available. The problem isn’t their skills – it’s their case load.
This is one reason why I chose to go into private practice. I can control the number of cases I take on, and I can give the ones I’ve got the attention they deserve. Having said this, I, like many private attorneys, am a staunch believer in the public defender system and in giving back through pro bono work.
We’ll have to wait until October 25 to learn what Del. Dwyer’s fate holds with regard to his DUI offenses. In the meantime, I’m curious – in your opinion, are celebrities, politicians, and public figures treated differently that the rest of us?