Friday, December 22, 2006

Martha Madness--The Impact of Corporate Law

I'm just now listening to Glenn & Helen's podcast about Corporate Law specifically about out-of-control prosecutors, the inability of the common business person to comply with all laws (I'll second that emotion), and broadness of the law. Essentially, any citizen is out of compliance with some law. Martha Stewart spent two years of her life dealing with the law and jail for a tiny infraction that many men (mostly men because they are at the high levels of business) never face for the same problem. And forget about actual criminals who kill, maim, steal, rape, and literally destroy lives and Martha Stewart is in the joint? This is a problem.

Right now, I have a friend who is spending 18 months (that was the minimum sentence, the judge had no discretion in the sentencing) in Federal Prison for violating paper work regulations. I'm not kidding. He made a procedural error. A rival company reported his company for something bigger that was groundless, but they got him on a procedural error. Guess what? That town now has a monopoly in his former business. All the witnesses were intimidated by the prosecutor to either change their statements to witness against their boss or be prosecuted themselves. And they all did.

As a business owner, the fear of non-compliance with some rule affects all parts of our practice. Just the lists of our insurance illustrate the potential pitfalls: liability, malpractice, health, life, umbrella (doctors are big targets for everything). We've tried to structure our business in a way to limit our exposure.

Even still, we have the IRS, HIPAA, ADA, and the list goes on and on, of government agencies we must comply to. We have the same obligations when it comes to our retirement programs as huge corporations. The fine for non-compliance is $300,000 if one set of paperwork is not completed and turned in on time. That's exactly the same for fine for a multi-billion dollar international corporation. Except, they have lawyers and accountants. We have one employee. And the fine is the same. That kind of fine would ruin us.

Here are the problems:

  1. There is no sense of proportion with fines, sentencing, etc. Making a mistake with paperwork might inconvenience the government, but no one is dead. No one is even hurt. Meanwhile, criminals molest children and end up on probation. This is insane.
  2. DAs and prosecutors have no limitations. None. The Grand Jury is supposed to clip the DA's wings. But look at the DA with Tom DeLay. He kept reconvening Grand Juries until he got what he wanted. That is NOT the purpose.
  3. The laws are too broad and poorly defined. No one can comply. It's insane. Ironically, the law-abiding citizens who are trying to do the right thing are the most at risk. The big corporations have a slew of lawyers and deep pockets--even they are often extorted by the government. The government should not be able to extract money from people for minor infractions just to fill their coffers.
Ultimately, the government stifles growth and creativity. It is simply too expensive and risky to work and do business. I swear, owning a business is as nerve-wracking as being a parent. There are so many potential, lethal pitfalls. I've given myself heart-burn.

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