Two beleaguered people have recently come back from the dead, unjustly-ruined-reputation-wise. Both were victims of attack by legal action. Both lost their jobs, had their names dragged through the mud, and had to spend tens of thousands in litigation costs. In neither case was the attack the fault of “lawyers,” although some of the lawyers, of course, took advantage of what these unfortunate victims’ attackers wanted to do.
Both individuals were also vindicated by the justice system – after being run through the wringer.
One of them is Paula Deen, celebrity chef. The judge presiding over the lawsuit brought against her by a former employee threw the discrimination complaint out of court in August. The complaint never had merit; from the beginning, the lawsuit was obviously a shakedown. But because Deen’s deposition in the case revealed that she had used the N-word once, in private conversation a quarter-century ago after being held up in a bank robbery by a black man, she lost her various lucrative media contracts and underwent a ritual public humiliation.
Deen began a potential media comeback with an appearance 14 September on a cooking show in Houston, at which fans gave her a standing ovation. I’m giving her one too, and I’ve never cared about the woman or her cooking. Just not my thing in life. You go, girl. May your contracts proliferate and your bank account swell. May life be sweet from now on.
The other person run through the wringer unjustly is former Congressman (and one-time House Majority Whip) Tom DeLay of Texas. A Texas appeals court today has ordered DeLay’s acquittal on the charges related to an accusation of campaign-fund money-laundering in 2002. The always-meritless case was shopped from venue to venue in the mid-2000s by Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle (a Democrat), who brought in a documentary film crew for good measure, to ensure that his personal battle against DeLay would be commemorated.
After failing twice, Earle finally found a grand jury that would do a ham-sandwich indictment. In the appeals court opinion ordering the acquittal, the justices note that the conviction was obtained (in 2010) only because of flawed instructions to the trial jury. The whole process was bogus from start to finish.
So DeLay has been acquitted, after a 10-year slog, and has this monkey off his back. His promising political career was truncated, of course. He competed on Dancing with the Stars in the 2009 season (eventually sidelined by stress fractures in his feet), and now runs a political consulting firm. I wish him well also.
No one but we the people has the power to change the character of our public square, so that unprincipled opportunists can’t do this to hapless individuals. We are the ones who have to learn not to slaver whenever the bell is rung, as if there must be something behind the noise.
Nor is the solution an endless succession of countersuits. A countersuit can’t give anyone his life back. It just keeps the gravy train going for lawyers. The ultimate solution is an improvement in our character, to the point that, no matter what some lawyers think is good for their profession, what we think is that the legal system should be harder for people to use to lash out at each other. Ronnie Earle’s tactics may be more difficult to correct with legislation than the misuse of civil lawsuits, but that doesn’t mean there can be no recourse against them.
Businesses, professionals, and property owners, meanwhile, are being hounded – impoverished, immobilized, shut down – by activist groups and agencies of the government, through just these methods every day. Surely, it won’t take legal-system victimization of everyone in the country, for Americans to take this problem seriously.
But maybe it will. If we are cynical and dismissive when it happens to others, we can each be sure that, eventually, even our own unprepossessing little oxen will be gored.