United States v. Fishman, 631 F. Supp. 2d 399 (S.D.N.Y. 2009)
Fishman was a partner at law firm Latham & Watkins, and pled guilty to a multi-year scheme in which committed dozens if not hundreds of acts of dishonesty and fraud -- an offense made worse by the fact that he was an attorney and therefore an officer of the Court.
But Fishman had some things going for him -- significant charitable and civic activities, particularly his work at the Sinai Schools. And based on that work, Fishman received a sentence of 15 months imprisonment, even though his advisory Guidelines range was 27 to 33 months.
What's most interesting in the case, though, is views expressed by the Court when confronting offenders who present so much positive information in such a persuasive manner. Indeed, the Court's detailed explanation shines a light on what judges might really think and, thus, gives guidance to defense lawyers in preparing sentencing memoranda. It's worth reading in its entirety. Here are some excerpts:
As a point of departure, the Court notes that Fishman's presentation, though stressing points that argue for uniqueness, distinction and individual consideration, in fact is not uncommon. The Court has heard much of the argument in echoes from similar pleas for mercy frequently urged in this courthouse, indeed in courtrooms across the country. In particular, Fishman's argument falls into a pattern advanced by a subset of the white collar criminal. This category encompasses a select class: distinguished, reputable, highly esteemed model citizens such as Fishman. The list of their achievements and virtues is long and impressive. At home, they are good family men and women, caring spouses, loving parents, loyal and reliable to friends. At work, they are looked up to as outstanding professionals and business partners. To their community's charities and public causes they are generous patrons and sponsors. And as worshipers they are devout, often rising as leaders of the congregation.
Yet, for all of their outward rectitude, these otherwise good people suffer a fatal flaw: they sometimes lead a double life. Somewhere at the core, in a distorted dimension of the soul, the public image they present is as false as the lies they tell to sustain the appearances of an exemplary life. And somehow, for reasons that always defy reason, they fall into crime, doing wrongful deeds that seem aberrational, selfish and greedy acts that, when caught, they claim are entirely out of character with their otherwise law-abiding lives.
Typically, these offenders appear at their sentencing well-represented and well-prepared, offering ample reasons why the Court should exercise exceptional discretion and show maximum leniency. A key aspect of the evidence proffered in mitigation consists of medical records and psychological evaluations attesting that the defendant's criminal conduct, so at odds with an upright character, was driven by some recently diagnosed mental disorder, or ungovernable impulse, other unknown inner or outer demon he could not conquer that made him do it. An outpouring of sympathy and support from relatives, friends, business colleagues, community leaders, and even some of the victims, accompanies the presentation. The beneficiaries of the defendant's charitable work, in some cases intensified since his arrest, testify about his devotion of good will and donation of resources, and underscore the loss they and the larger community would suffer if deprived of the defendant's invaluable contributions to their public services. And of course, the defendant rises in the courtroom to convey profound, personal apologies for all the sorrow he has caused to all the people with whom he broke faith and hurt and betrayed and shamed.
As it ends, the presentation comes to several conclusions it urges the Court to adopt: that the defendant has already shown full rehabilitation and earned redemption; that there is absolutely no likelihood of recidivism from this defendant and thus no threat of future harm to society; that no further need exists to punish the defendant because he has been wracked long enough by shame, by ruin of his family and personal life, by loss of his primary means to earn a livelihood. The purposes of sentencing thus having been satisfied, ergo: a sentence of any incarceration would serve little or no useful purpose; probation would suffice.
Let me stress at this point that the Court is not unmindful or unsympathetic to these points. There is much in Fishman's plea to commend the compassion it seeks to evoke. But the argument goes only so far. Compelling as it sounds on the surface, it fails in some essential ways. Fundamentally, it is flawed by what it omits. In particular, it makes no account of several other circumstances courts are instructed to weigh adequately in ordering a fitting sentence: to reflect the severity of the crime; to promote general respect for the law; to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities; and to consider the impact of the crime not only on its immediate victims, but on the larger social order. These principles are interrelated. They share vital links with some basic legal and philosophical concepts, ideals emblematic of the law profoundly significant for sentencing to ensure a right and just result for all concerned: fairness, balance, proportionality, and equality of treatment under law for relatively similar persons and circumstances. In sentencing, these principles seek to ensure that judgments overall fairly align so as to achieve, like planets in orbit, a special form of equilibrium, a proper balance in the delicate symmetry of justice.