House of Cards, Jail of Lies

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Via Arts and Letters Daily is the story of a once-eminent Australian judge that illustrates very eloquently both the hazards of waging the war against reality that is lying and the importance of always upholding one's principles. The judge, caught in a so-called "white lie" he made in an effort to get out of a minor traffic infraction, refused to stop perjuring himself, and has landed in jail for a minimum of two years.

There is a whiff or two of egalitarian schadenfreude to get past in the story, but not as much as one might expect from a European news outlet, which calls the tale a tragedy, in the classical sense of the term.

On the face of it, you can't call his disaster a tragedy. A tragedy, according to classical principles, is a fall from high degree because of some great flaw.

Marcus Einfeld, the judge in question, was certainly of high enough degree - none higher. Queens Counsel since 1977, Australian Living Treasure 1997, United Nations Peace Award 2002, the list goes on. He retired a few years ago but has continually been brought back to judge important cases about refugees because the Australian legal system can't do without his experience and prestige.
What makes the story worth reading is that it shows a relatively good grasp not just of the former stature of the man, but of the greatness of Einfeld's flaw.
He doesn't need me or anyone else to tell him that a judge who commits perjury, over no matter how trivial a matter, has sinned against the spirit of his profession.

That's why his case really is a tragedy, and not just a farce. It's a tragedy because he not only fell from high degree, there really was a tragic flaw: a capacity to forget, at the critical moment, the central ethical precept of the calling to which he had given his life.
The report even demonstrates a grasp of the personal and psychological consequences of such a failure.
The judge is already hearing about it from himself. He's hearing about the fatal road that led from the speed camera to the truly tragic climax, which wasn't the moment when one of his fellow judges had to send him down for three years, two of them without parole.

The tragic climax came when the distinguished Judge Marcus Einfeld found himself on the telephone to his mother saying: "Mum, remember how you lent me your Toyota that day?" and she said "Marcus, what have you got yourself into?"

And suddenly he was a little boy again, as all men are when the truth they must face is about a mess of their own making.
This judge inadvertently chose almost the perfect example to jail for perjury. May his past stature and reputation not fool anyone into forgetting that respect for the truth is actually everyone's business, and everyone's best friend. He was just under greater scrutiny than most when he got caught making himself vulnerable to the ability of other men to see the truth.

And principles, being truths discoverable from the facts of reality, are no less forgiving of evasion or ignorance than more mundane facts.

-- CAV

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