Officers and their corporations -- a legal question based on Law & Order

In last nights episode of Law & Order an executive of a company whose negligence resulted in several deaths is ofered a deal by the DA: accept jail time or deal with the negative publicity of a long and ugly trial. Does a corporate officer have an obligation to do what is best for the company even in a case like this? Can he/she just say “hell with our image, I ain’t going to the slammer” and hope for the best at trial? Assuming the company is publicly held, can the shareholders take action against an officer who refuses an offer like this and causes the company harm in the process?

The officer has no obligation to go to jail for the company.

In theory, the shareholders can vote to have him removed from the board. In practice, he’d probably be removed by the other officers before the shareholders got together.

I’ll admit I was distracted by Elisabeth Rohm’s lousy acting (Dianne West was annoying, too. It makes me pine for Steven Hill and Hennesy/Lowell/Harmon), but the corporate issues seemed a bit simplified to me. Unlike the meat worker who gutted a kid, the executive’s murder charge is a bit tenous. If anything, the fact that you could use emotional parent testimony to swing a murder trial suggests that the burden of proof shifts away from reasonable doubt and to whatever will push the jury’s buttons (i.e. turning a criminal trial into a civil case). I think it would be borderline unethical for a DA to consider taking such a step, especially after the parents’ civil case had already been settled. If a criminal case was possible, it should have been brought before the civil litigation. The parents had a chance to prosecute and they settled instead. They should not then be allowed to testify at a criminal proceeding.

I don’t have a problem with a civil case settlement coming after a criminal conviction (I’m skittish about a civil case after an acquittal) but this episode carries a very bleak message: the legal system has gotten so expensive and time consuming that if you try to settle a case out of court just to get it over with quickly, and even if the settlement admits no liability, the fact that you settled somehow creates evidence of your guilt.

If a creationist and an evolutionist decide to agree to disagree, are they guilty of betraying their beliefs because they didn’t pull out all the stops and engage in a destructive decade-long battle over the issue?

I’m not an lawyer, but I have to hope this episode is highly exagerated and not a true picture of the New York justice system. I still love Law & Order (well, except for Rohm and West), but these “ripped from the headlines” political soapbox episodes are getting on my nerves. They need another Frank Masucci.

IAAL. I was a DA.
I did not see the episode.
I am not licensed to practice in New York or anyplace but California.

It sounds like Law & Order is forfeiting legality for screenplay.

In California, settlements cannot be used against the settlors (especially ones written by a competent attorney, who would include an “admit no liability” clause). In fact, IIRC (it’s been a while), such settlements cannot be admitted into court. Even a civil judgment is not dispositive, because of the difference in burdens of proof.

Bryan Eckers -
Civil is civil, criminal is criminal. They don’t have to work together, and almost never do. A DA who actively helped a civil case would look very biased, and impartiality is one of the DA’s most powerful selling points.

Civil cases must deal with statutes of limitations, so the Plaintiffs have to file within a certain amount of time, criminal case or no. Usually, a civil case is put on hold during the criminal case, but that in’t required, and it certainly doesn’t stop the parties from negotiating a settlement.

And criminal cases don’t necessarily go away because the victim and defendant settle their civil issues. Contrary to what many believe, cases are not bound by the “pressing party.” We can, will and do, for the right reasons, go forward with a case where the victim has either settled the matter, or even recanted.

Even the premise sounds unlikely. I’m probably one of the more pro-business people on the board, and I can’t imagine a corporate officer taking a deal to save the company grief.


Can I sue you for pain and suffering to my surname?

If I remember correctly, the parents never actually testified. The possibility of the parents testifying to rebut the risk-reward analysis ( Making our product safer would result in a price no one would pay) testimony given by the defense was brought up. When the DA advised the defendant to conduct a risk-reward ananlysis regarding this information, I don’t think it was about saving the company ugly publicity, but rather about him doing more jail time than the offered deal would require.