Editor’s Note: When one of the newspapers I write for published a story about “criminal attorney” Mickey Sherman’s going-away party for the crime of tax evasion, it just seemed wrong on so many levels. It’s hard to feel all warm and fuzzy about millionaires who won’t pay their taxes (no matter what the Republicans/Tea Baggers think about taxes and the wealthy), it’s hard to feel good about lawyers as a group and I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we should celebrate people for going off to jail. I think his fellow lawyers shouldn’t have thrown him a bon voyage bash, the newspaper shouldn’t have covered it and the people who wrote to the newspaper to complain about the story were right to do so. That being said, I happened to meet Mickey Sherman this past summer at a Beach Boys concert in Stamford, and he seemed like a really nice, down-to-earth guy, so I have mixed feelings about him. Not everyone was enamored of my musings this time around ... one angry lawyer wrote to the paper the next day to express his disgust with me.

Celebrity Justice and Criminal Attorneys

No one enjoys paying their taxes. Conservatives consider them practically satanic, especially when the taxpayers involved are rich, but when did committing the federal crime of tax evasion become something to celebrate?

A recent news story [Stamford Advocate, Feb. 11] described a going-away party at the Greenwich Tavern — attended mainly by defense attorneys — for millionaire lawyer Mickey Sherman. Without a trace of irony, the newspaper reported the event as if Sherman were leaving for a vacation in Barbados, rather than going to federal penitentiary for a year, after neglecting to pay nearly $1 million in taxes. The article read like a bad lawyer joke.

Sherman’s incarceration party bears an uncomfortable similarity to the reception given to Joey Buttafuoco upon his release from prison for statutory rape. Friends and fans welcomed Buttafuoco home as if he were a conquering hero, rather than a paroled convict. Similarly, Sherman’s fellow lawyers seemed to feel their colleague deserved a celebratory send-off.

If I were going to jail, I’d try to slip out quietly, rather than attending a gala event in my honor that gets covered in the newspaper, but then I’m not a celebrity lawyer. And, if my partner had already been jailed for 16 months for tax evasion and been stripped of his license, I might not want to draw attention to my own misdeeds. In fact, if I worked at the firm of Sherman and Richichi, I might even be a little embarrassed that the job title “criminal attorney” has now twice become a double entendre.

If I were going to jail, I also wouldn’t want lawyer Phillip Russell polishing my image in the press. One of the party’s organizers, Russell was sentenced to 12 months probation and six months of home confinement for destroying evidence in the case of Robert Tate, the former music director at Christ Episcopal Church in Greenwich. Tate is serving 5 1/2 years for possession of child pornography, and Russell pled guilty to having “altered, destroyed and mutilated” Tate’s laptop, after learning it contained images of naked boys.

Commenting on Sherman’s conviction, Russell said, “We are considered a prized bounty by federal prosecutors. It’s sad and it’s sick.” It’s unclear whether he believes Sherman is an innocent man who’s been railroaded, or whether he just objects to attorneys being held to the same standards as the rest of us. Either way, arrogant statements like his help explain why, in one survey, attorneys ranked slightly below used car dealers and slightly above pimps in the eyes of the general public.

Having Russell as a supporter actually makes Sherman look better, if only by comparison. Sherman’s realistic assessment of his conviction was, “I didn’t get railroaded.” During sentencing, he told the judge, “I’m guilty of absolute stupidity and foolishness … but not guilty of arrogance.” At his bon voyage party, he conceded that lawyers should be “held to a higher standard” and, to his credit, he even expressed reluctance about attending such a gathering.

In reaction to the party story, several readers wrote to the newspaper to express disgust at the idea of celebrating “someone who has broken the law like he is a hero,” because a “going-away party for a convicted tax evader is not newsworthy.” In fact, the newspaper should be ashamed of falling prey to our society’s obsession with celebrities.

Mindless worship of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities is one more reason so much of television is so brain-dead. For example, the Kardashians’ gateway to becoming millionaire TV personalities was the fact their late father was once O.J. Simpson’s lawyer, and Kendra Wilkerson has her own reality show merely because she once lived with Hugh Hefner. Viewers obsessively follow these people’s activities — as well as those of rude and uncouth “real” housewives from the Jersey Shore or wherever they’re from  — as if one of them might one day say or do something clever or interesting.

In such an environment, it’s no surprise Sherman’s TV career really took off once he’d spectacularly lost the Martha Moxley murder case, when few pundits thought prosecutors could convict his client, Michael Skakel, in a cold case with nearly 30-year-old evidence. And doing time is unlikely to hurt Sherman’s broadcast career once he’s released.

In an earlier century, Sherman’s rise and fall might have been considered tragic, but, in our celebrity-crazed culture, all publicity is good publicity. And a celebratory gathering of lawyers at the Greenwich Tavern during which an attorney’s upcoming imprisonment elicits his colleagues’ expressions of respect merely provides the setup for any number of punch lines for uncomplimentary lawyer jokes.

Footnote: Originally, I had a different final paragraph, which actually included an uncomplimentary lawyer joke; however, I thought it might be a bit crude and mean-spirited, so I didn’t use it, even though I thought it worked better, and the original paragraph was actually better-written. You can decide for yourself.

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