Lawyers make lousy defendants. They can’t keep their nose out of things, and they have the darndest time letting go. But eventually, every criminal defendant has to make a choice of whether to stand firm and assert his innocence, and face the great void of uncertainty that comes with it, or cop out.
Les Jacobs is no different. Via the Cleveland Plain Dealer :
Jacobs, 66, of Gates Mills, is accused of under-reporting his income from the Thompson Hine law firm by more than $250,000 from 2004 to 2007. That resulted in the underpayment of about $75,000 in income taxes.
Jacobs is a Harvard Law School graduate and the former president of the Ohio State Bar Association. He was recently named the 2012 Cleveland Litigation-Antitrust Lawyer of the Year by the Best Lawyers in America publication.
Jacobs has worked for Thompson Hine for 43 years, and is a senior partner in the firm’s Competition, Antitrust and White-Collar Crime practice group. He laments in his letter that “we live in an era when a legal problem for even the most obscure lawyer seems to provoke public interest.”
Les Jacobs was a lion of the bar, the sort of lawyer who gets named to blue-ribbon committees, who commands the respect of lesser lawyers who someday hope to be like him. And apparently, a lawyer who screwed around with his taxes. It’s not inexpensive to live like a lion in Ohio. And the story doesn’t even mention that he was past president of the Ohio Bar Association. A lion. Roar.
One might think that as a lawyer with 43 years experience practicing white-collar crime, Les Jacobs would have a pretty firm grasp on how best to handle such matters as a plea. You see, Jacobs pleaded guilty, and quickly found out why lawyers make lousy defendants.
Cleveland lawyer Leslie “Les” Jacobs pleaded guilty to a federal tax charge Wednesday after an exchange with a prosecutor over a letter Jacobs sent to friends, colleagues and clients about his case.
At a hearing in U.S. District Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Siegel took issue with the letter, which he said was worded in a way that could leave people with the impression Jacobs hadn’t done anything wrong and was coerced into pleading guilty.
Jacobs said he regretted that his words had been misconstrued.
There is a laundry list of things one shouldn’t do if you’re going to seek a downward departure based on acceptance of responsibility. At the top of the list is denying responsibility. In writing.
The Oct. 10 letter, a copy of which was obtained this week by The Plain Dealer, characterizes Jacobs’ legal problems as resulting from a four-year dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over tax returns.
“The reason I write now is that I have reached a point where continued debate is pointless,” he states in the letter. “The government has been relentless; the levels of hostility and mutual recriminations have escalated in intensity; and the stress for [wife] Laurie and me has become intolerable.”
And so what? Is he pleading guilty because he is guilty, and accepting responsibility for breaking the law, or is he capitulating to the overwhelming might, the “hostility and mutual recrimination,” of a relentless government?
This is the nature of federal practice, and you would think that Les Jacobs knows this well enough not to screw up his deal. A critical element of a plea under the sentencing guidelines is the acceptance of responsibility, and you can’t ask for it while claiming that your plea isn’t based upon your guilt, but rather succumbing to the stress and pointlessness of fighting. You can’t have it both ways.
Jacobs claim is that his letter is being misconstrued. That’s unlikely to win him any friends in the courtroom. It’s far more credible that Jacobs is trying to salvage his lost dignity, to not appear as a disgrace to his friends and colleagues. Heck, he just won some lawyer of the year prize by the Best Lawyer in America. Now you know how much that crap is worth.
Maybe Jacobs was in a financial hole, and he skirted the law to try to dig his way out. Maybe he just can’t come to grips with the fact that his great lion roar is faded to a whimper. Maybe he truly believes he did nothing wrong, but can’t face the uncertainty of trial and isn’t inclined to take the chance. For all I know, his wrong wasn’t so wrong, and he just doesn’t have what it takes to stare at the jury foreman at the end of a trial.
But none of this, true as it may be, changes what he should also know as a 43 year lawyer who was the head of a white-collar crime department. You can’t deny responsibility if you want the break at sentence. And at the moment, there should be nothing more important to Les Jacob than getting the lowest possible sentence on his plea. But then, lawyers make lousy defendants.