Next Monday marks the birthdays of two late American icons: former Governor Thomas E. Dewey and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. How appropriate, given the modern day risk management lesson gleaned from their similar experiences. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Keep reading.
Not many people today remember Arbuckle. But in the 1910’s, he was probably the biggest movie star around — literally and figuratively. In terms of talent, popularity and versatility, Arbuckle was right up there with Charlie Chaplin; he even had top billing over the legendary Buster Keaton. You can check out the two of them in this clip.
So why is Arbuckle all but forgotten? In 1921, Arbuckle held a party in a San Francisco hotel, during which one Virginia Rappe became ill and later died. One of Rappe’s friends accused Arbuckle of raping Rappe and causing her death. Despite numerous holes in the story (and the friend’s attempt to extort money from Arbuckle), Arbuckle was arrested and prosecuted for manslaughter. The resulting scandal became a major media event (according to William Randolph Hearst, the Arbuckle scandal “sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the RMS Lusitania.”). Initially, Arbuckle didn’t think he needed a lawyer. Then he thought a Paramount studio lawyer was sufficient. Only much later did he hire a criminal defense attorney.
After two mistrials, Arbuckle not only was acquitted, but the jury took the unusual step of issuing a statement of apology to Arbuckle. Despite his ultimate exoneration, Arbuckle’s reputation was irreparably damaged and his career effectively ended.
What does this have to do with Dewey? I recalled Arbuckle when I read this article in the New York Times, about Zachary Warren, the youngest person indicted following the demise of Dewey & LeBouef. Warren briefly worked in Dewey’s collections group before law school. Since then, Warren, now 29, went to Georgetown Law, made Law Review, and was serving as a law clerk on the Sixth Circuit while waiting to join Williams & Connolly.
According to the report, Warren received a call from the Manhattan D.A.’s office, answered questions, and “provided what he interpreted as background information.” He didn’t think he needed a lawyer. Later, Warren was called by the SEC about the bond offering issued by Dewey. Since Mr. Warren had nothing to do with that, and wanted to be helpful and cooperative, he agreed to travel to Washington to sit with the SEC investigators to assist their investigation. He didn’t think he needed a lawyer. Oh, by the way, the SEC asked, would you mind if we had someone from the D.A.’s office join us? Mr. Warren agreed. He didn’t think he needed a lawyer. We’ll let the NY Times report what happened next:
Mr. Warren arrived at the S.E.C. offices on Nov. 15. After the S.E.C. lawyer asked some introductory questions, Mr. Moser, the assistant district attorney, took over. An F.B.I. agent was also present, and other prosecutors were listening from New York.
By all accounts, the interview was a disaster for Mr. Warren. He had trouble remembering details from his time at the firm, which prosecutors interpreted as evasion or, worse, lying. They showed him emails and documents, most of which he did not recall. He was not prepared for the hostile tone and became defensive. Prosecutors thought that Mr. Warren was arrogant, even that he was “playing them” by trying to ferret out what they knew, rather than offering to help the investigation.
It remains to be seen whether Warren will be convicted, but the damage to his reputation has already been done. So if the fear of a criminal conviction isn’t enough to prevent you from speaking to law enforcement without proper representation, then think about Arbuckle, Warren and the potential for irreparable damage to your reputation. Then call a lawyer.