Cheats in Cleats

BaseballIf you’re not a Tigers or Indians fan, you probably don’t know Jhonny Peralta. Jhonny was named to the All-Star team in 2011 and carried the Tigers to the World Series in 2012.  All wonderful things.  That is until this year when he was suspended for being a drug cheat.

Yes, baseball has had a drug problem for years, but it was supposed to have gotten better.  Players had cleaned up their acts.  Drug testing had improved.  Baseball was no longer turning a blind eye.  Until a company called “Biogenesis” emerged.  Biogenesis was a health clinic in South Florida that, among other things, provided baseball players with performance enhancing drugs.  After evidence of drug use emerged, Major League Baseball suspended various players linked to the clinic.  One of them was a player from the Dominican Republic, Jhonny Perralta.

Jhonny is out until the end of the season.  Neither he nor his fellow Biogenesis players appealed their 50 game suspensions, much to the chagrin of their playoff-hunting teammates.  And while there’s been a lot written about Biogenesis and what it means for baseball, I’m writing today about what baseball cheating means for lawyers.

Cheating is a serious problem in the legal world – billing two clients for the same work; requesting reimbursements for expenses not used; charging three hours for a thirty minute task; removing money from a trust account with every intention of returning it later.  Recently, a prominent Chicago lawyer Lee Smolen improperly obtained numerous transportation and entertainment-related reimbursements to the tune of over $100,000.  Mr. Smolen, who characterized his actions as “poorly conceived”, “inadvertent” and “occasional” is now under investigation by the ARDC.

Whether deliberate and intentional, or inadvertent and occasional, attorneys who cheat their clients cast a poor reflection on themselves, on their colleagues, and on the profession.  In that way, they resemble the baseball players caught up in the Biogenesis scandal.

Let’s start with the individual.  Several of the Biogenesis players have won awards, World Series rings, and set records even before they were accused of taking drugs.  However, for the rest of their careers, they will always be remembered as the players who cheated.  Similarly, no matter how good an attorney you are, if you are exposed as a cheat, it will dog your name for the rest of your career.  And it may pay in the short term (it certainly did for the baseball players) but when you are caught, the price you pay, at a minimum, is the abject loss of your professional reputation.

What about the effect on the person’s colleagues?  All of the baseball players were part of teams in the playoff hunt, teams that they have disappointed.  When you cheat, you let your own team down –  your trainers, your mentors, your senior partners, your junior associates, your paralegals, your secretaries, all people who relied on you and trusted you for the long-haul.

And the disappointment and betrayal goes beyond your immediate “team”.  Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis had this to say about the suspended players: “We’re sick of it. Tired of it,” he said. “We don’t want the fans thinking everybody cheats. You listen to people talk and they associate baseball with cheating.”  When lawyers cheat, they bring the reputation of the bar into question and sully the reputations of those who have done nothing wrong.

Cheaters never prosper is not an entirely accurate statement.  They often do, for a time.  But they often get caught.  And when they do, the damage to their reputation and legacy, as well as to their colleagues and the system –  whether it be Major League Baseball or American justice – is irreparable.

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