Monday, August 03, 2009

Bernie Madoff, Jeff Blackburn and me

Friday was my final day on the job as Policy Director at the Innocence Project of Texas, with the end coming because a grant ended prematurely when the JEHT foundation was bankrupted by the Bernie Madoff scandal on Wall Street.

(I'm not the only person in in a similar situation thanks to Bernie Madoff: The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition was forced to make layoffs recently for the same reason, with victims including my friend Isela Gutierrez, their juvenile justice advocate, according to an announncement sent out by email last week.)

This latest bout of unplanned unemployment is an unfortunate setback, but recent events have placed the loss in perspective and I've still got a lot for which to be grateful.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank IPOT's executive director Natalie Roetzel, their legal director Jeff Blackburn, and the IPOT board for giving me the chance to work with them over the last year or so. It's a rare and special thing to get paid to work on these kind of "good guy" issues. Though I wish it could continue, I'm thankful for the time I got to spend working at the Innocence Project of Texas.


Anonymous said...


Sorry to hear of your layoff...

The ripples around Bernie Madoff's web of fraud have impacted a lot of people who had nothing to do with him directly. But that is the way it has always been with white collar and corporate crime -- the unseen effects are far worse at every level than street crime. WC & CC cause more deaths, more injuries, loss of more wealth, and loss of more jobs than all street crime combined by a factor of 10. It is one of American "dirty little secrets" -- we have allowed people with wealth and power to define the laws before they become laws. The effect is to make these "avoidable harms" invisible or at classify them in a way that is only reachable through law as torts.

You and the foundation are two more victims of a leissez faire business climate - market fundamentalist ideology - the belief that deregulated markets and the invisible hand of market forces will invariably serve the broad public interest). When this perspective was combined with the persistent denegration of government (i.e., "...government cannot do anything right and should be kept small enough to drown in a bathtub") it had the effect of clearing the forest of prudent regulation, plowing the fields, and fertilizing the soil to facilitate the types of financial abuses we have recently seen.

We need business to be successful and we want to them to make reasonable profits but we don't want them to steal from us, defraud us, pollute our soil and air, injure us or kill us. My 401K retirement plan lost nearly $40,000 as a result of financial abuses and at 63 retirement is now at 10 to 15 year away when I will be closing in on 80.

Quite literally, we are at their mercy. Much of the current problems with the economy can be traced directly to exploitational business practices facilitated by political decisions (driven by campaign contributions) to pass laws favorable to business (juristic persons) at the expense of the citizenry -- real persons -- you, me and everyone else. The result of these business favorable decisions has been a systematic attacked on the financial health of the middle class to the point where there is very little disposable income left to drive the American consumer driven economy. One practice we have all experience is the manipulation of payment dates on credit cards to make it almost impossible to not be late on a payment if you send a check using the postal service which then provides the credit card company with a reason to increase the rates to a point that keeps the customer from ever repaying the principal because most of every payment is for interest fees.

Perhaps we need a good discussion on GFB about white collar and corporate crime. Maybe we have reached a point where pain they have caused is so bad that we can rebuild a meaningful and enforceable regulatory structure that will allow business to be successful and earn reasonable profits and reduce white collar and corporate crime that victimizes all of us. We need to give the public bureaucracy the tools and resources to protect the public interest after being increasingly handicapped by market fundamentalists for the last 30 years.

The Bernie Madoff saga that has impacted you is one more example of the US having the best political class that corporate money can buy.

Don Dickson said...

I sent a small contribution to IPOT when I learned it had become one of BM's victims, and now I'm gonna send another one in your honor. If I ever hit all six numbers I'll see to it that you get hired back. :-)

Anonymous said...

This has to be a difficult situation for you to be in. Those of us who tend toward the "lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key" philosophy of criminal jurisprudence couldn't be more happy with Madoff's lengthy sentence. On the other hand, doesn't his incarceration fly in the face of all of the reformist advocacy that you do on this blog? From what I read in the media, Madoff has no criminal history, was a first time offender, was involved in a non-violent property crime and has no issue with substance abuse. How can we justify taking up valuable prison bed space for such an offender? Here we have a guy who clearly has the resources and intellect to support himself and his family and not be a burden to the taxpayers while locked up in some penal institution. Would he not be an ideal candidate for probation with maybe some type of house arrest and electronic monitoring? If left in society to earn a living, he could even start paying restitution to his victims. What say you?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:23 writes: "This has to be a difficult situation for you to be in."

Not really. I mean, the unemployment part is difficult, but Madoff's situation doesn't challenge any of my beliefs about the justice system.

What does it benefit me if or how Madoff is punished? Does the 150 year sentence get me my job back?

I'd rather they use the threat of incarceration to maximize restitution and get him to flip on his co-conspirators, which the state avoided, incidentally, by going for a max sentence without offering a reduction for cooperation.

I have no difficulty saying Madoff's sentence was too long, making a mockery of the "parsimony" provision in federal sentencing. My own preference: If only for symbolic purposes (which are not insignificant) he has to do some prison time. Beyond that, why not have the guy on community supervision for the next decade cleaning graffiti in NYC alleys and subways? Then his punishment is of benefit to somebody instead of just paying for his room, board, and healthcare into his 80s or beyond.

Anonymous said...

How are you at grant writing??
Do you have another job in mind?

Anonymous said...

This is a HUGE loss for IPOT. Hopefully, they will soon improve their fundraising and you'll be back on board. For those who want to send donations, the address is:

Innocence Project of Texas
1511 Texas Avenue
Lubbock, TX 79401


Anonymous said...

This is a good time for us to make sure we have all set up our monthly $8 contribution to Grits. It's small compensation for the tremendous value of the information we all get through this blog. And it's a great way to honor the memory of beautiful Maggie Lee.