A Different Legal System for the Rich: Imagine Getting Off Easy for Hit-and-Run Because You Run a Hedge Fund
November 26, 2010
Our lopsided wealth distribution makes the U.S. look more like a banana republic than one of the richest, most highly developed nations in the world. But having a small, wealthy elite living it up among a nation of struggling workers doesn’t make a country a banana republic. In a true plutocracy, you also need a bifurcated legal system, with one philosophy of justice for the wealthy and another for the little guy.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Recently, a modest crime that made big headlines provided an eye-opening anecdote. In July, Dr. Steven Milo, a surgeon, was riding his bicycle on a Colorado road when he was struck from behind by a Mercedes. According to the Vail Daily, Milo “suffered spinal cord injuries, bleeding from his brain and damage to his knee and scapula,” causing “disabling spinal headaches” and requiring “multiple surgeries for a herniated disc and plastic surgery to fix the scars he suffered in the accident.” His attorney said Milo “will have lifetime pain.”
The driver of the Mercedes took off, stopping later not to call for help for Milo, left bleeding at the scene, but for service for his damaged luxury sedan. In Milo’s words, the man “fled and left me for dead on the highway,” a serious felony.
Or it would be if you or I had committed the offense. But the driver that day was 52-year-old Martin Joel Erzinger, a Morgan Stanley Smith Barney money manager who oversees more than a billion in assets for “ultra high net worth individuals, their families and foundations.” District Attorney Mark Hurlbert was apparently concerned with Erzinger’s future — SEC rules would have required him to disclose the felony within 30 days of being convicted, which might have cost him his job — and decided to accept a misdemeanor plea, over the objections of Milo and his attorneys. “Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession,” Hurlbert said, “and that entered into [the decision].”