Is There Nothing Sacrosanct, Like a Law Degree to Prevent Corruption? Gordon Caplan and College Admissions

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Gordon Caplan, The Legal Profession and the Words of a Lifelong Idealist

There is apparently good reason for the number of lawyer jokes that circulate the internet, parties, schools and even children’s playgrounds. One would think that to practice law you must yourself be worthy of the profession, have an unshakable set of ideals and standards and draw lines in the sand that cannot be crossed. They say we would do anything for our children. But what does that mean when a future generation depends upon our integrity?

Those who have spent a lifetime practicing law should be held to a higher standard in everything they do, whether it is trying a case, drafting a contract or sending a child off to college. We should not be cheating the system. We should not be paying off public officials. We should not be coercing or gaming a judicial system and we should not be falsifying test results.   

We most certainly should not be setting a stage whereby our children cannot distinguish right from wrong. Lines should be clearly drawn. We are supposed to be setting an example for others. Instead we make a mockery of the profession.

FOREVER THE SLEW OF LAWYER JOKES:

Question: A driver is driving and sees a lawyer and a snake on the road, she has a choice and can only miss one. What does the driver do?

Answer: She swerves to miss the snake.

Ex-Willkie Co-Chair Gordon Caplan Gets Prison Term in College Admissions Case

Gordon Caplan, the former co-chairman of Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, was sentenced to one month in federal prison on Thursday for paying a college admissions consultant to rig his daughter’s ACT score.

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in Boston said the interests of general deterrence drove the need for Caplan to serve time behind bars. The sentence was below the eight months prosecutors asked for, but dashed Caplan’s hopes for a noncustodial sentence.

He was ordered to report to prison on Nov. 6. In addition to the prison time, Talwani ordered Caplan to pay a $50,000 fine and to serve one year of supervised release. His sentence also includes community service.

The sentence is another notch in the belt for U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office, which brought cases against some 50 defendants as part of its probe into a web of corrupt college admissions officials centered on William Rick Singer, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.” Many other defendants pled guilty and await sentencing.

The government, whose prosecution team included multiple Big Law alumni, said Caplan had shown “callous disregard for honesty and the rule of law.”

Caplan is at least the fourth parent in the college admissions case to be sentenced to prison time; Felicity Huffman, the actress, was sentenced to two weeks after she pled guilty to working with Singer to rig her daughter’s SAT score. Parents Devin Sloane and Stephen Semprevivo—who worked with Singer to fraudulently pass their kids off as talented athletes—each got four months.

John Vandemoer, a coach accused of accepting funds for the Stanford sailing program in exchange for a willingness to tell the school’s admissions office that phony athletes referred by Singer were prized recruits, received a sentence of no prison time.

Caplan’s lawyers at Ropes & Gray and Smith Villazor argued that Caplan’s public humiliation and his possible disbarment would be enough punishment, and said a prison term would harm his family. If anything, they argued, he should face no harsher a penalty than Huffman, who went so far as to consider making use of Singer’s illegal services for a second child.

Prosecutors sought to rebut that argument, however. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen argued that Caplan’s status as a lawyer, the fact that he hired another attorney who was oblivious to the cheating to threaten the ACT after it withheld his daughter’s test score and the fact that he paid $75,000 for Singer’s test-rigging services—five times what Huffman did—made clear that he was the worse offender.

But Judge Talwani split with prosecutors over whether the price Caplan paid meant his crime was any worse than Huffman’s. Caplan’s plea agreement included an upward adjustment to the guidelines based on that sum, but the judge rejected that reasoning in her assessment of the guidelines—the total offense level should be five, not 11, as it was in the plea deal, she said.

Still, the judge cited the high price tag Caplan paid in other parts of her analysis. What drove her decision to impose a prison sentence, she said, was the need for general deterrence, plus the huge amount of money involved.

“This is large money, which makes it more of a serious issue,” the judge said. “It’s just different than most [crimes with a guidelines range of zero to six months in prison].”

Talwani made clear that she didn’t agree with prosecutors about Caplan’s status as a prominent lawyer figuring into his crime or punishment. “I don’t see how this offense was trading on his position as a lawyer,” she said.

As to further consequences Caplan may suffer to his already-derailed career, judge invoked “a combination of having a punishment here and the court’s recognition that you have fully accepted responsibility here and, in my view, are more likely to understand the morality and rules and law going forward than before this conviction.

“So I don’t know what will happen with the collateral consequences, but… hopefully the punishment will weigh against further consequences,” she continued.

‘The Moral Issue’

The sentence marks the end of a relatively straightforward and short criminal case. Caplan was among dozens of parents charged in March with paying corrupt consultant Singer to help their children get into good schools. Within less than a month, he announced his intent to plead guilty.

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