It is now official: Mickey Sherman will be heading to federal prison this spring. He was sentenced today by United States District Court Judge Janet Hall to a term of one year and one day. His crime was failing to pay his taxes in 2001 and 2002. I should feel either sympathy or satisfaction. Instead, it seems sadly predictable, as in the new Mickey Sherman reality show that will debut when he is released from prison. Expect a luxury edition of Prison Diaries of the Rich and Famous. Perhaps Sherman will co-star with Eliot Spitzer on the former New York governor's failing television show.
Sherman plead guilty in the fall to failing to pay his taxes. The back story is unappetizing. When he fell behind on his taxes, the government placed a lien on his home. Mickey negotiated a release of the lien, and then tried to transfer title to the home to an entity whose title could not be clouded by his tax lien. That was too much for the feds. They decided to make an example of Sherman.
This is not a case of an effective and hard-charging criminal defense lawyer being silenced by the feds in retaliation for his hard-charging ways. That's the script Mickey would like written about his prosecution. The fact is that Sherman is effective only at self-promotiion. He reportedly charged millions for his defense of Michael Skakel, only to lose the case. Mickey was too busy playing celebrity during the trial to attend to trial details, or, apparently, to his taxes. He brought this prosecution upon himself.
So I feel no sympathy for Sherman.
But what of satisfaction? If he brought this upon himself, why no sense that justice was done?
Taxation is feels like a form of theft. It is far from clear what philosophic justification supports a tax levy that amounts to the government's appropriation of a portion of our labor as a matter of right. Yes, Mickey broke the rules; but what kind of rules treat our labor as the property of government? Mickey stiffed the government on his taxes, but only after the government sought to strip Mickey of the fruits of his own labor.
I watch the case of United States v. Michael Sherman with a weary sense that the two parties deserve one another.
Sherman owes the government hundreds of thousands of dollars. He will not be able to pay them while he is behind bars. He will lose his law license for a time. But he will be back soon enough, if he chooses to return. Or maybe he'll turn his status as former federal inmate into a business opportunity. Former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, himself recently released from federal prison, now charges a hefty fee to prepare others for the time away. Ganim had a table set up as a vendor at a recent National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers event in New York. How about Ganim and Sherman?
The government beat Mickey Sherman today. Nothing new there. The government has beaten him many times. All that is different this time is that Mickey, and not his client, pays the price this time. Farewell, Mickey. We'll see you in a year or so, whether in the courtroom, or, more likely, on television, glibly spouting the lingo he'll learn in prison. It might be the hottest reality television show on the market. And with the proceeds you just might be able to cut the government a check for what you owe.