When lawyers actually do good
At a Moneylife seminar, when the audience was asked if they thought lawyers were honest, sadly, not one hand was raised. That prompts us to bring you a heart-warming story of lawyerly Good Samatarianism as well as judicial sympathy.
A man was arrested for drug dealing and related offences and converting black money into white. The prosecution threw the book at him. His lawyers, experts in fast-track court proceedings, connived to lose the case in two months. However, to compensate themselves for their ‘effort’, they charged the culprit $250,000 (more than Rs1.5 crore). Not satisfied with their self-serving argument, that the amount is small change for a narco-crook, they also take away his house and his wife’s wedding band and engagement ring.
The client got 14 years in prison. But there was a catch. The man had already pleaded guilty in a plea bargain which cannot be done without the consent and knowledge of his lawyers. A plea bargain is when a person’s lawyers go into a huddle with the prosecution and hammer out a deal. It allows a person to accept certain charges in exchange for a lengthy and expensive trial while the prosecution drops a few charges or reduce the sentence and penalty and the matter is closed. However, the judge must agree to the plea bargain.
If the person agrees to plead guilty, there are negotiations on the amount of fine or length of the sentence. Sometimes, the period of incarceration is cut if the person agrees to counselling and rehabilitation or learning legitimate crafts; all of it is intended to make a model citizen out of a thug.
The operative term is ‘all parties’. That includes the lawyers for the convict. A sort of Lok Adalat.
In this case, the lawyers did not cooperate and help their client get a lesser sentence, as they should have. Obviously, the lawyers, having ripped off their client, did not want him out soon. Drug-dealers are no spring chickens and he could be a menace to them. So, instead of a lesser sentence due to the plea bargain, he got 14 years in jail! What did he get out of copping a plea? Nothing. He may even have been acquitted had he stood trial and were to be represented by good lawyers.
Enter a white knight. A lawyer, in the Shahid mould, who decides to take up the matter pro-bono. He convinces the judge that the convict was let down by his own advocates.
You be the judge. What would you do?
Judges are no fools. While lawyers handle a case or two a day, judges go through dozens of them. Even when they nod, it means they ‘heard the argument’, not that they agree with it. Luckily, the judge saw through the lawyers’ game plan. He not only reduced the sentence, he ordered the lawyers to pay back the entire amount to the convict. He also made the lawyers pay the new advocate, for exposing them and taking on their burden. The amount? $10,000.
The story does not end here. Easy come, easy go. The lawyers had spent the client’s money. They had to pay him back. When the man had served his term, he had no place to go. Solution? He took over one of the lawyers’ homes. What business he is in now is not reported, but he is certain of one thing. Justice may be delayed, it may be blind-folded, but it is not blind.
Readers may ask why the judge did not take corrective action in the first place. Judges’ hands are tied. They confine their orders within what the lawyer asks, usually called ‘prayers’. If your lawyer prays for Rs10, you may get Rs5. But rarely Rs15. That is why prayers are often couched in vague terms, “…and any other relief that the Hon. Court may deem fit.”