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Purchased Justice? The Hurlbert Decision: A News Roundup

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MoneyThe case of the wealth manager from Morgan Stanley who hit a cyclist and left the scene of the accident is burning up the blogosphere and turning up on mainstream media both here and abroad. It’s not the accident itself that is under the spotlight, but rather the decision by the prosecutors to drop the felony charges for the stated reason that it would affect his income (felony charges have been dropped in favor of misdemeanors). If you are unfamiliar with the event, please read my prior post on the subject for a synopsis.

As you may imagine, this is rapidly spinning into an epic tale of wealth dictating justice as more and more blogs and news outlets around the globe comment. Since there is a vast quantity being written on the subject, I’d like to present a roundup of the commentary currently circulating through the Internet, including both pro and con opinions.

Let’s start with the news from Denver, which notes the prior encounters of the attorneys involved:

Haddon and his partner, Pamela Mackey, aren’t strangers to the Vail DA. Mackey was lead defense lawyer for Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, accused of sexually assaulting a hotel worker in Vail in 2003. The charges were ultimately dropped when the victim in the case said she would not testify in the case against Bryant.

Source: “Colorado’s latest moment in the blog spotlight is not very flattering,” Denver Business Journal, 11/08/1o

In the arena of national news, see what John Carney at CNBC has to say, with a pro-plantiff stance:

The clear implication is that Erzinger is getting off easy because of his wealth. I think this is probably 100% backwards.

I suspect that if Erzinger hadn’t been a wealthy guy driving a brand new Mercedes Benz he would never have been arrested for the hit and run.

Source: “Did Cops Target Hit-And-Run Driver Because He Was A Rich Private Wealth Manager?,” CNBC, 11/08/10

A clarification of the plea bargain was given to The Huffington Post, which provides a bit more detail:

Hurlbert told HuffPost on Monday the government decided to offer Erzinger a plea bargain for two misdemeanors instead of a deferred felony, which is what he said Milo wanted. He said Erzinger could face two years of jail time and that the misdemeanors will be on his record permanently, while the deferred felony will eventually be expunged.

‘This is the right plea bargain given the facts of the case, the defendant’s prior criminal history and his willingness to take responsibility,’ Hurlbert said. ‘We feel this is far more punitive than the felony deferred.’

Source: “Morgan Stanley Hit-And-Run: Plea Deal For Perp ‘Far More Punitive’ Than What Victim Wants, Says Colorado DA,” The Huffington Post, 11/09/10

Taking in the East Coast perspective, lets see what The New York Times had to say on the subject. In addition to pointing out some of the blogging coverage of the story, it  also focuses on the reaction of the cycling community :

Mr. Mionske, the cyclist’s rights attorney, called the case a particularly striking example of the difficulties cyclists face when seeking justice after being struck by a vehicle. For example, after many bike-car collisions, the injured cyclist is taken to the hospital, while the statement from the driver is to be an authoritative account of the incident, he argues.

‘The police, they show up at the hospital and hand the guy a ticket without ever asking him for his version of the accident,’ he said.

Source: “Cyclists Condemn Prosecutor’s Decision,” The New York Times, 11/08/10

Yet another perspective is presented on the Financial Post:

Before you hate Martin Joel Erzinger, the PWM, for avoiding felony charges in this situation, consider how his punishment is shaping up. He might be working for the rest of his life and giving much of his paycheck to the victim, Dr. Milo.

Milo’s family was presumably pretty well-off too, as a doctor from New York City. So imagine the kind of lifestyle Erzinger might have to support now that Milo is, sadly, it seems, completely debilitated, having suffered a really terrible, hit and run at the hands of Erzinger.

Source: “Morgan Stanley broker escapes felony charge for hit & run so he can keep his job,” Financial Post, 11/07/10

Let’s take a look at NowPublic:

Mark Hurlbert’s rationale does not address the fact that Steven Milo will have trouble doing his job (i.e. operating on people) with the debilitating after-effects of the crash. What Hurlbert did do, though, was send a message that, due to his command of great wealth, Erzinger will not face the full consequences of his actions.

In other words, had Martin Erzinger worked at Pizza Hut (instead of just stopping there after the crash), would he have faced misdemeanor charges for the same reason, i.e. potential inability to pay restitution, or would he be charged with felony hit-and-run?

Source: “Martin Erzinger Dodges Felony Hit and Run Charge: ‘Too Rich,’” NowPublic, 11/08/10

Felix Salmon, a blogger for Reuters, chimes in as well:

In other words, Erzinger has bought his way out of a felony charge, over the strenuous objections of his victim; it’s very unlikely that online petitions will do any good at this point. Just another thing to add to the list of things that money can buy, I suppose.

Source: “How to buy your way out of a felony charge,” Reuters, 11/08/10

A quick search online unearths a broad array of additional articles on the subject, the majority of them expressing anger over the decision. It does make one wonder what effect all this coverage will have upon Erzinger’s clients and business. Every day, the story spreads farther, garnering more and more negative commentary. Reports state that the Colorado D.A. has received over 1,000 angry emails about it — while blogs in all corners of the Internet howl for his dismissal.

Image by AMagill, used under its Creative Commons license.

 

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