Monday, November 8, 2010

Justice for the Rich versus The Little People

Here is an article in a Vail, Colorado newspaper about a hit-and-run accident. A guy in a car swerves across the road and hits a bicyclist from behind, leaves the guy with serious injuries, and drives off. The police catch him some minutes later while he is "putting a broken side mirror and a bumper in his trunk" and he claims no knowledge of hitting somebody and leaving the scene of the accident.

What should "justice" do? Throw the book at the guy? I would think most people would say "yes". You have an obligation to stop, attend the injured person. It is negligent to hit a bicyclist, but it is viciously cruel to leave them bleeding on a highway and drive off without making sure that some other motorist doesn't run over the body in the road.

So what would American "justice" do in this case? Would it prosecute this driver as a felon? Or would it decide this was "only a misdemeanor"? You know, treat this as a forgivable little "mistake"?

Well the District Attorney in Vail decided it was a "little mistake" and was just a misdemeanor. Surprise? Well, what if I told you the hit-and-run driver was a billionaire investor? What if I told you that this billionaire pleaded that having a "felony" on his record would seriously crimp his lifestyle because investment laws restrict guys with felonies from having "fiduciary responsibilities". So the DA in Vail got all weepy and had empathy for this rich guy and decided that hit-and-run in Vail is only a "misdemeanor" and not a felony.

Now... what if I told you that the victim was a specialist liver transplant surgeon who will probably never be able to perform surgery again? Still "just a misdemeanor" in your mind? Still think "justice" in Vail is "blind" and even-handed? Or do you think the rich guys get "special treatment" in Vail? I opt for the latter.

Here are the details of the case from the Vail Daily newspaper. You decide:
A financial manager for wealthy clients will not face felony charges for a hit-and-run because it could jeopardize his job, prosecutors said Thursday.

Martin Joel Erzinger, 52, faces two misdemeanor traffic charges stemming from a July 3 incident when he allegedly hit bicyclist Dr. Steven Milo from behind then sped away, according to court documents.

Milo and his attorney, Harold Haddon, are livid about the prosecution's decision to drop the felony charge. They filed their objection Wednesday afternoon, the day after prosecutors notified Haddon's office by fax of their decision.

Haddon and Milo say this is a victim's rights case, that Erzinger's alleged actions constituted a felony, and that one day is not enough notice.

“The proposed disposition is not appropriate given the shocking nature of of the defendant's conduct and the debilitating injuries which Dr. Milo has suffered,” Haddon wrote.

As for the one-day notice, Haddon wrote, “One business day is not sufficient notice to allow him to meaningfully participate in this criminal action.”

Milo, 34, is a physician living in New York City with his wife and two children, where he is still recovering from his injuries, court records show.

Milo suffered spinal cord injuries, bleeding from his brain and damage to his knee and scapula, according to court documents. Over the past six weeks he has suffered “disabling” spinal headaches and faces multiple surgeries for a herniated disc and plastic surgery to fix the scars he suffered in the accident.

“He will have lifetime pain,” Haddon wrote. “His ability to deal with the physical challenges of his profession — liver transplant surgery — has been seriously jeopardized.”

Money manager

Erzinger, an Arrowhead homeowner, is a director in private wealth management at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Denver. His biography on states that Erzinger is “dedicated to ultra high net worth individuals, their families and foundations.”

Erzinger manages more than $1 billion in assets. He would have to publicly disclose any felony charge within 30 days, according to North American Securities Dealers regulations.

Milo wrote in a letter to District Attorney Mark Hurlbert that the case “has always been about responsibility, not money.”

“Mr. Erzinger struck me, fled and left me for dead on the highway,” Milo wrote. “Neither his financial prominence nor my financial situation should be factors in your prosecution of this case.”

Hurlbert said Thursday that, in part, this case is about the money.

“The money has never been a priority for them. It is for us,” Hurlbert said. “Justice in this case includes restitution and the ability to pay it.”

Hurlbert said Erzinger is willing to take responsibility and pay restitution.

“Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger's profession, and that entered into it,” Hurlbert said. “When you're talking about restitution, you don't want to take away his ability to pay.”

“We have talked with Mr. Haddon and we had their objections, but ultimately it's our call,” Hurlbert said.

Dropping the felony charge is not a revelation, Hurlbert said.

“We had been talking with them about this misdemeanor disposition for a while now,” Hurlbert said. “The misdemeanor charges really are what he did.”

Haddon and Hurlbert have squared off before. Haddon was one of Kobe Bryant's defense attorneys, with lead attorney Pamela Mackey, when Bryant faced sexual assault charges in Eagle County. Hurlbert was the lead prosecutor in that case.

Bicyclist hit from behind

Milo was bicycling eastbound on Highway 6 just east of Miller Ranch Road, when Erzinger allegedly hit him with the black 2010 Mercedes Benz sedan he was driving. Erzinger fled the scene and was arrested later, police say.

Erzinger allegedly veered onto the side of the road and hit Milo from behind. Milo was thrown to the pavement, while Erzinger struck a culvert and kept driving, according to court documents.

Erzinger drove all the way through Avon, the town's roundabouts, under I-70 and stopped in the Pizza Hut parking lot where he called the Mercedes auto assistance service to report damage to his vehicle, and asked that his car be towed, records show. He did not ask for law enforcement assistance, according to court records.

Erzinger told police he was unaware he had hit Milo, court documents say.

When Avon police arrived he was putting a broken side mirror and a bumper in his trunk, court record say.

Meanwhile another motorist, Steven Lay of Eagle, stopped to help Milo and called 911.

Court records say prosecutors expressed skepticism to Milo at a suggestion by Erzinger's defense attorneys that Erzinger might have unknowingly suffered from sleep apnea, and that might have made him caused him to fall asleep at the wheel and hit Milo.

The original complaint included a felony count against Erzinger for causing serious bodily injury. Deputy DA Mark Brostrom is prosecuting the case and Milo says in court documents that Brostrom called Erzinger's July 3 actions “egregious.” Prosecutors pleaded the case down to a misdemeanor later in the summer, then in August told Milo and his attorneys that Erzinger would face a felony charge, Haddon wrote.

But on Sept. 7, Brostrom told County Court Judge Katharine Sullivan that the case would be pleaded as a misdemeanor. That's the first time Milo or his attorneys had heard of it, Haddon wrote, and they protested “in the strongest possible terms,” Haddon wrote.
If you look at the comments to the article, I don't see any billionaires that felt it worthy of their time to respond. All I see is a lot of "little people" outraged at this kind of "justice". Oh, but wait a sec, the super-rich don't have to stoop to actually talking to the little people through their "newspapers". The truly rich simply buy the justice they "need" and leave the messy details to be smoothed over by their "handlers".

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