Through my work in preparing white-collar defendants for life in federal prison I am constantly reminded of the two-tiered system of justice that exists.

For clarity I am of the opinion that we send too many people to federal prison.

I do believe, however, that if we are going to continue to send people to prison we should treat everyone equally.

Last week, I had two clients and friends get sentenced to federal prison. We did all we could to convey to the court that they were better than some bad decisions they made. They had character reference letters, compelling first person narratives, volunteer work, and excellent legal advice. To be clear, they both got the low end of the range. They did well, relative to what they could have received.

They were sentenced to prison terms of 18 months and 33 months.

I share this information with you because their conduct did not come close to touching the conduct of former federal prosecutor,James Pickerstein, who was sentenced to just 30 days in federal prison last week for stealing more than $600,000 from a former client. His guideline range, I assure you, was significantly north of 30 days in prison.

Yes, you have that correct. A former federal prosecutor, who better than anyone else knew right from wrong, only received 30 days in federal prison for stealing more than $600,000.

Justice, apparently, is only for those who don’t have privilege or connections. I’m sure Mr. Pickerstein articulated to the court why he was worthy of the best sentence. Clearly, his lawyers did a wonderful job of putting his life into perspective. Indeed, they had a plan, and executed it. I commend them. My fault does not rest with them as much as the system.

My job is more than a career for me—it’s my passion. I strive to fight for the white-collar defendant who is so easily kicked aside and forgotten about. Many of my clients do not deserve lengthy prison terms. Further, the government should not have the right to pick winners and losers, and punish those that do not have connections or power. The U.S. Attorneys Office had a chance to take a stand—they failed the test.

My message to you…

Despite the injustices that exist, we have to find a way to prevail and overcome. I admire and have such respect for clients like Scott Clark, Jim Vani, and others who choose to document their experience through the twisted criminal justice system. It is not easy.

Indeed, compare their crimes to Mr. Pickerstein and any objective observer will see that they were treated more harshly.

To be clear, I am sure Mr. Pickerstein is a good man who has a loving and supportive family. Clearly, he is more than his bad decisions, as we all are. I wish him well.

The point that I’m trying to convey is that I think it’s tragic that he is treated differently because of who he knows, rather than being held to account like any other white collar defendant in trouble. Indeed, the two-tiered system of justice continues. And it shows no signs of slowing down. All we have to do is point to Dennis Hastert and now James Pickerstein.

Justin Paperny

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James Pickerstein receives only 30 days in federal prison
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