Legally Hidden Envy

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Over at Slate is an article about a legal case in Florida which is receiving a huge amount of publicity, but for the wrong reason.

On Feb. 10, 2010, Palm Beach air-conditioning mogul John Goodman allegedly ran a stop sign. His Bentley convertible struck a Hyundai being driven by Scott Wilson, a 23-year-old civil engineer. Wilson's car landed in a nearby canal where the young man drowned. The near-billionaire then fled the scene. Police say Goodman had a blood alcohol content of 0.177, twice the legal limit. Not surprisingly, Goodman is being sued by Wilson's parents for a great deal of money. (He also faces criminal charges that could put him in jail for 30 years).
The article continues, mentioning that many of Goodman's assets, having been diverted into a trust fund for his children, cannot be touched by the jury -- although "West Palm Beach Judge Glenn Kelley ruled early in the Goodman civil lawsuit that the jury could not be told of the large trust's existence because it might encourage jurors to impose a larger verdict against Goodman, despite the fact that he, in theory, has no control over the trust." This is apparently because one of Goodman's adopted children is his lover, and Goodman's attorney set up the trust as a tax dodge.

The case has aroused an enormous amount of interest, not because Wilson's family may receive less of an award, but because Goodman's relationship is, in a strict legal sense, incestuous. It is, of course, ridiculous to use a legal technicality as a substitute for objective moral judgement, especially when it is clear that the legal definition of incest might need revisiting.

What I find truly amazing is why such a setup is actually quite common. (It has similarly been used by homosexual couples who don't have recourse to marriage to establish a legal familial relationship.) Our society so reflexively condones confiscatory taxation that some people are left with the ridiculous choice between having their property taken by the state -- or making some screwball arrangement like this.

It is so clear that this is a tax dodge -- and that the "incest" here is only a legal technicality -- that I strongly suspect that much of the animus against Goodman -- at least for his "incest" -- is motivated, psychologically, by envy. Indeed, it is those who are casting the stones here who are using a legal loophole for nefarious purposes: to condemn a man for an evil of which he is innocent and to hide their true motivation from themselves.

-- CAV

P.S. I have not thought carefully about whether incest should actually be illegal.  That said, laws should definitely be in place against adults having sexual relationships with minors. Under such laws, incest that is not between consenting adults is already illegal.


 Today: Added a P.S.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

There is a well-known trial attorney in Florida by the name of John Morgan (of Morgan & Morgan). He is the typical "ambulance chaser" type, but the amount of advertising he does dwarfs his competitors. Anyway, in the last few years he has shifted the style of his advertising to being strictly about business to more of an informal, personable style (because, I suspect, he intends to run for public office in the future). He tells jokes about his dogs, gives stories about his family history, etc. He also, from time to time, likes to play the "public servant" angle and offers free legal advice during his TV or radio ads.

Recently, he ran a radio ad complaining about one of the laws related to the case you cite here. He says it "isn't fair" that juries may not be told the full extent of a defendant's assets because, the court believes, it will entice them to grant larger awards to the plaintiff (the reasoning may also be that it will affect the verdict itself, I am not sure). In other words: the government has experienced this (to them, befuddling) tendency amongst the general public to impose larger penalties and/or more readily rule against defendants if they know the defendant can afford it (and the plaintiff needs), and - in classic pragmatic fashion - have created this law to deal with it. Then, along comes trail attorney John Morgan, complaining that it isn't fair, precisely because he knows that this social phenomenon exists and he wants to milk it for all that it's worth.

Of course, the real solution is to just take the power to pick exact figures from juries entirely (and possibly even take the power to determine guilt or innocenter from them as well), but because no one in government has the courage to challenge altruism outright, all they can do is fight it's deleterious effects pragmatically. It's pathetic, and self-defeating, because all it does is play right into the hands of men like John Morgan, who will cite it as even more "evidence" that the "rich" control the legal system.

Just an interesting, real-life example of how immorality necessarily leads to impracticality; how the moral is always the practical. Cynical, pragmatic, power-hungry law-makers - who are altruists by default - are forced to deal with the fact that the altruism they have spent their lives encouraging to run completely hog wild has be reined in somewhat, or the very people they oppress, yet depend upon, will become too oppressed and it will come back to hurt them, and yet their moral premises leave them only one "practical" option - which in the long run will turn out actively help achieve exactly what they are trying to avoid by doing it.


Gus Van Horn said...

Irrational laws certainly do reinforce each other and lend false credibility to/perpetuate the irrationality in the culture that brings them into existence in the first place.

Marriage Equality said...

I certainly don't condone murder via to drunk driving, but that's a different issue. As I understand it, Goodman is not violating Florida anti-incest laws. The laws of other states may be different.

As noted, same-sex couples have tried adoption in times and places where they were denied the freedom to marry.

A discussion about inheritance and civil liability is one thing, and perhaps those laws should be looked at.

But when it comes to relationship rights, an adult should be free to share love, sex, residence and marriage with any consenting ADULTS, including one he or she adopted. We should not be wasting time worrying about whether or not this is incest.

Gus Van Horn said...

He isn't violating those laws, but that's not stopping people in certain quarters from whipping themselves into a frenzy about this.