Thursday, April 9, 2009

Defeating Justice?

In a previous post, I discussed the concept of creating justice within the context of the television show Lie to Me. The particular storyline at issue was one in which a female member of an Army unit fabricated an allegation that she had been raped by her superior officer because, as the audience comes to find out, the superior officer had raped another member of the unit, who deserted rather than tell her story in what she viewed as a hostile legal and social environment. The argument made in my post was that the officer who fabricated the story did so in order to create a situation where justice would be done for the act of rape, even if the particular allegation was false. Ultimately, the true victim came forward to tell her story, the offending officer inadvertently admitted to the rape and was arrested, and it seemed that the social order within the military community was restored.

One of the two storylines in last week’s episode of Lie to Me, “Depraved Heart,” presented an entirely different concept of creating justice and the restoration of status quo to those harmed by the actions of a particular individual. At the beginning, the story seems to closely parallel the headline-grabbing facts of the Bernard Madoff case. Foster and Loker are hired by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to investigate an investment manager named Hollin and his business dealings because he has been found to have operated an investment swindle similar in size and effect to that in the Madoff case. Hollin himself is portrayed as an ill old man. He shared control of his investment firm with his daughter, Caroline, although Hollin maintains that he alone acted to swindle the firm’s clients and that Caroline had no knowledge of his actions. He also maintains that the missing money from his clients – many of whom gave him their life savings and are facing dire financial straits as a result of his actions – is gone.

Throughout the course of several interviews with Hollin and Caroline, Loker demonstrates a sense of disgust with both of them, and is extremely hostile to them, to the point where Foster has to conduct interviews without him. During one of these interviews, Hollin admits that the swindle was actually the result of his daughter’s actions and that he has decided to take the fall for her because she has a family and long life ahead of her, while he will certainly die soon. To Hollin, his daughter made a mistake and he is doing the noble thing that any parent would do in protecting her. He then admits to Foster that his clients’ money is not in fact gone. Hollin and Foster make a deal: he will help her and the SEC find and distribute his clients’ money and Foster will not say anything to the SEC about Caroline’s real involvement in the swindle. Foster accepts this deal because to her the best way to achieve justice for the victims of the swindle is to allow them to retrieve their money and be saved from economic ruin. When they return to the office, Foster tells Loker about her agreement with Hollin and Loker angrily objects, arguing that Caroline should be prosecuted because she broke the law. Foster reminds Loker that, if Caroline is prosecuted, the victims will not recover any money and will suffer far more than if Caroline is allowed to remain free. Loker does not seem to accept this idea but agrees to go along with it. Shortly after this conversation, Foster calls her contact at the SEC and is informed that her services are no longer needed because he has received information regarding Caroline’s culpability. When Foster asks about the source of this information, her contact is evasive and ends the conversation. Loker goes missing for a while and is confronted by Foster on his return. He tells her that he is happy that Caroline will be tried but that he did not turn her in. Foster reminds him that the affected investors will now remain without compensation because Caroline was implicated in the scandal and then lets Loker leave. Loker then takes Torres aside and admits to her that he reported Caroline to the SEC and then took a sedative so that he would not visibly react to Foster’s questions. Although Torres agrees not to turn Loker in, she reminds him that he will eventually be found out.

At first, Loker’s actions might not seem objectionable. After all, he did act in strict compliance with the law, turning in someone he knew to be guilty of a crime. From the legal systems’ perspective, Loker’s actions were appropriate – notwithstanding his insubordination at work. However, a deeper analysis of his actions calls into question which character was actually acting in the best interest of justice and the people whom the law is designed to serve.

Loker’s statements regarding Caroline and his overall actions echo the idea of retributive justice. Caroline committed an illegal act which harmed the investors in her father’s firm and should be punished as a result. His focus was solely on Caroline and the initial harm done by her actions. Foster’s agreement with Hollin and her defense of it to Loker, however, echo in restorative justice. While Foster is certainly aware that Caroline’s actions were illegal and wrong, she is also aware that the result of Caroline’s actions is more than the violation of a statute and the initial economic harm done to the community of investors who were defrauded by the swindle. Rather, Foster views justice as returning the presumptively lost funds to Hollin’s clients and restoring them to their prior state of financial stability. To Foster, justice in this instance is not in the trial of Caroline for her acts but in finding a way to mitigate the impact of Caroline’s acts on those who were most harmed by them. Examined at this level, Foster’s vision of restorative justice as appropriate in this case is arguably more compelling, as it gets to the heart of the truly horrific element of the crimes at issue – the loss of investors’ life savings through no fault of their own. In the agreement between Foster and Hollin, the investors are spared financial ruin and Hollin and Caroline are left to resolve their differences as to Caroline’s conduct as an internal, family matter. Thus, the investors who were harmed are made whole and the family in which the crimes occurred is left to decide on its own method of sanction and/or forgiveness. This episode of Lie to Me demonstrates that there are times when it is possible for law to defeat justice, depending on the vision used to define justice itself.

Information on Lie to Me can be found at .

No comments: