Fundamentally, it proves the system works. People serve their time and then are free to go. When they excel after their brush with the law, we applaud and cheer. The First Step Act was a long overdue initiative to accelerate to help people who probably should’ve never been imprisoned in the first place.
But sometimes lawyers might get a little ahead of themselves trying restore people to pedestals they needn’t occupy.
Jeffrey Toobin is back on TV after what by all accounts amounted to sexual harassment. The effort to bring him back into society’s good graces began almost immediately after his story went public. As I put it then, “A second chance is just a phrase the uber-privileged use to justify living with no consequences for any of their actions.” I countered that people can have a second act, but the world doesn’t owe them a fast track to getting back on top. The media world was clearly not listening to me.
Meanwhile, a former convict turned advocate for sex offense policy reform at Mitchell-Hamline finds himself under a troubling cloud on social media. In a series of tweets including a number of screenshots of conversations, @papertigerx calls out her ex as manipulative and abusive. Without getting into her most serious allegations, it’s clear that she feels she’s been used and exploited as a proverbial prop in this guy’s story.
Or, as the case may be, a literal prop to the extent he’s allegedly using pictures of her on his new website marketing himself as a “writer. speaker. advocate.” It turns out this guy, literally Guy Hamilton-Smith, has shown up in Above the Law before in an old post written by our erstwhile conservative columnist blasting the state bar for having a hangup about admitting a lawyer with a child porn conviction.
He’s gone on from that to appear in and even write for a number of legal publications. Scott Greenfield even wrote a post about Paper Tiger herself in 2019, though that post was really about Hamilton-Smith with his then-wife functioning as a sympathy prop — a vehicle for his tale of woe. In retrospect, the post is pretty problematic. Actually, without hindsight it reads kind of skeevy.
There’s a guy I used to work with, that I frankly never had any issues with, who got himself arrested for propositioning someone he thought was a child. Today he’s a justice system reform advocate, interacting with multiple legal scholars and other journalists on social media and podcasts. He’s doing good work and by all indications he’s got himself squared away. That said, I’ve never been able to bring myself to personally amplify his voice. It just strikes me that I don’t have to join in that project.
And maybe that’s the lesson here. Sometimes people get in legal trouble and get past it. Other times they get in there because they have deeper issues. When it comes to some crimes, like getting mixed up in child porn, issues of control and misogyny might well come along for the ride and create further problems down the road. That’s the sort of thing you don’t necessarily invite when championing a newly released non-violet drug offender. Just be careful with which redemption trains you hop on. Cabin your praise, if you feel compelled to grant it, to the specific work at hand and don’t let yourself become a tool in whitewashing someone’s image when there’s a risk they might use that goodwill to do other bad if not criminal stuff.
In other words it’s one thing to appreciate the arc, it’s another to go out of your way to try and force it to happen.
Earlier: New York Times Spews A Lot Of Hot Garbage About Jeffrey Toobin
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.