Opinion

WSJ Columnist’s Attempt to Drum Up Support for Lori Loughlin Was Pretty Cringeworthy

Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn just delivered a missive on why we should “Free Lori Loughlin,” and it borders on irresponsible. McGurn’s piece contains just enough contextual truth to be really convincing, but falls woefully short in supporting its thesis that Loughlin’s unfair persecution is detrimental to justice as we know it.

McGurn’s central premise was as follows:

We’re dealing with Lori and Mossimo—an actress and a fashion designer—not Bonnie and Clyde.

I see, so are we now going to use this as a legal principle moving forward? There are worse criminals facing lesser consequences, therefore the whole system is unfair and Aunt Becky should go free? I don’t know what kind of nonsense legal relativism that is, but that is just not how criminal law works. And while we’re on the topic, what, exactly would a “crime against the federal government” be? I wasn’t aware that federal prosecutors were only permitted to pursue criminals when they defraud the U.S. treasury itself.

These people are being prosecuted for taking part in an elaborate scheme of bribery and wire fraud. It’s true that their crimes aren’t the shoot-em-up-life-and-death kind, but they’re still crimes. And they’re pretty damn extreme. Fake admissions profiles and half a million bucks? That sounds pretty bad to me, and I’m fine that these people are now subjected to the rare experience of actually facing consequences for their actions, whether or not Olivia Jade’s made-up position as a coxswain was what legislators were thinking when they drafted the statute.

McGurn does, however, make an important–and sadly accurate–point: Americans do embrace schadenfreude. Much of the public outcry over the Varsity Blues scandal is borne of the public’s thirst for celebrity blood; nothing is more captivating than an off-brand fall from grace. Watching the folksy Aunt Becky go down for an elaborate bribery scheme that fraudulently marched her underachieving kids right into USC is positively tantalizing for us little folks.

Whatever scandal-mongering means about the American psyche, though, it’s not directly relevant to sound prosecutorial discretion. Bill Cosby’s and O.J. Simpson’s misdeeds caused a media frenzy too, but no one seriously contends that they were over-prosecuted on that basis. Crimes like bribery have amorphous effects, and it’s always easy to advance the argument that a defendant in a bribery or fraud case is being railroaded; but let’s not blame that on American celebphilia. We’re just less practiced at having compassion for victims of financial crimes than we are for victims of physical ones.

Loughlin, though, has found a champion in McGurn, who wrote the following:

If convicted of all the charges federal prosecutors have piled up against them, Ms. Loughlin and her husband could be sentenced to as much as 45 years in prison.

This is nuts.

And it would be nuts if a first-time non-violent offender were sentenced to four-and-a-half decades in prison. But let’s all calm down. The likelihood that, if convicted, Loughlin would spend forty-five years in prison is zero. As former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti noted, Loughlin’s sentence would likely fall far short of McGurn’s hyperbolic scenario.

It’s worth noting that there’s no way Loughlin and Giannulli would even consider going to trial if they believed 45 years behind bars was a possibility.

Felicity Huffman served just 12 days in jail, and Agustin Francisco Huneeus Jr. was sentenced to five months.

While “Free Lori Loughlin” is a bit much to stomach, the prosecution is making some moves that are suspect: the new charges against Loughlin do smack of overreach. Clearly, prosecutors really want guilty pleas from Loughlin and Mossimo, and they’re using all the leverage at their disposal to try and squeeze such pleas out of the couple.

Loughlin and her husband already faced significant penalties for their wrongdoing, and, as Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams pointed out recently, piling on new charges without really providing any new evidence isn’t a good look for prosecutors.

I propose we can agree on “Fairly Prosecute Lori Loughlin, And Give Her A Reasonable Sentence If She Is Convicted.” There. Fixed it.

[image via Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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