87 Geo. L.J. 957 (1998-1999)
Contrived Ignorance

handle is hein.journals/glj87 and id is 977 raw text is: ESSAYS
Contrived Ignorance
The sad fact is that honest lawyers sometimes have crooked clients. In a
notorious 1980 case of client fraud, a pair of businessmen used the services of
an unsuspecting law firm to close hundreds of millions of dollars worth of
crooked loans for their computer leasing company. The businessmen- created
forged leases to inflate the value of their company's contracts, which they used
as collateral for the loans. In the evenings, the pair would turn the lights off in
their office. Goodman would crouch beneath a glass table shining a flashlight
upward so that Weissman could trace signatures from genuine leases onto the
forgeries. New loans serviced previous loans in a decade-long pyramid scheme.
After nearly ten years, Goodman and Weissman's accountant stumbled across
their frauds. He wrote a detailed warning to the swindlers' law firm, which the
accountant's lawyer tried to hand-deliver to Joseph Hutner, the law firm's lead
But Hutner didn't want to see it. In fact, he wanted the accountant to take the
letter back. Above all, Hutner seemed to want to preserve his own oblivion. As
the accountant's lawyer later recounted, I had visions of him clamping his
hands over his ears and running out of the office.'
Well, wouldn't you? Hutner had been used. He had mouths to feed in his
firm, and the computer crooks represented more than half the firm's annual
billings. His flight reaction probably came straight from the gut. It may also
have been the result of a calculation, however. Legal ethics rules forbid lawyers
from knowingly participating in fraud, and Hutner may have reasoned that if he
didn't know about any fraud, his firm wouldn't have to part ways with its
bread-and-butter client. At the very least, maintaining deniability might buy
some time to figure out the next move.
The fact is that ignorance can be vital. A white-collar defense attorney offers
the following recollection:
I can remember years ago when I represented a fellow in a massive case of
political corruption. I was very young, and I asked him, Would you please
* Frederick J. Haas Professor of Law and Philosophy, Georgetown University Law Center. This
essay is based on a lecture delivered on April 17, 1998, to inaugurate the Frederick J. Haas Chair in
Law and Philosophy. I am grateful to Heidi Li Feldman, George Fletcher, Sanford Kadish, Judith
Lichtenberg, David Wasserman, and students in my seminar on collective and individual responsibility
for their comments and encouragement on earlier drafts of this lecture.
1. Stuart Taylor, Jr., Ethics and the Law: A Case History, N.Y. TIMES MA6., Jan. 9, 1983, at 33.

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