What has occurred with attorney Joe Neal should be a lesson to all. I am not going to comment on the circumstances of the charges against him and his ex-wife. But, as someone who has made himself a public figure by way of being a high profile attorney and activist for his neighborhood, the amount of press regarding his arrest was warranted. If found guilty of the charges I have full faith that the justice system (the jury) will act appropriately. On the other hand, if extenuating circumstances emerge and he is convicted of extremely poor judgment as opposed to rape, he will never regain his standing in this community and will have a difficult time practicing his trade. Once charged with a serious crime that is covered in the media whether it be DUI, Rape or Bribery that person rarely recovers whether exonerated or not. I know of only two exceptions: Ed McEntyre (Bribery) and Ben Harbin (DUI).
The point I want to make is that this rule of thumb used to only apply to public figures. And, admittedly, in the past even some public figures with the right connections could use their influence to quash coverage and quietly settle a legal issue. Everyone knows a good attorney can turn a DUI into a lesser reckless driving charge thereby sparing the client from complications at work and in society. However, neither is the case anymore.
With the onset of social media and the availability of the internet anyone can find themselves a “public figure” overnight. For a while, I struggled with whether the publication and Facebook page “The Jail Report” was a public service or a sensationalistic tool to make money. After speaking with publisher Greg Rickabaugh at length, I have come to the conclusion that while some charges that accompany mug shots under the heading “disorderly conduct” can mean anything (ie. spitting on the sidewalk) that the Jail Report is indeed a public service.
Why is that? Well, comedian George Carlin once commented that humans were the dumbest species on planet Earth. He said no animal, of which we are supposed to be superior to, knowingly puts itself in a situation it knows for a fact could cause it harm. Carlin was right, people engage in behavior that even though they are fully aware will destroy them if they are caught, they simply bank on not being caught.
People like Austin and myself know that if we go to a bar and drink to excess then get behind the wheel and get caught we not only get featured all over the media, but we also lose our livelihood. We know thanks to Google, we can’t simply move to another city and start over because the internet records our transgressions for all the world to see. So, that is one of the reasons you never see either of us hanging out in a bar swinging from a ceiling fan.
Nowadays that also applies to anyone who has a professional career. A case in point: I know of a person in the sales industry who was busted for DUI. Since he did not drive a car owned by his company, the company treated it as an indiscretion and declined to discipline or fire him. But, his clients saw his bloodshot-eyed mug shot and many called the company that employed him and asked for a different sales representative. Eventually he lost his job because he could not generate revenue.
So, in my mind, The Jail Report and the availability of mug shots by simply going on-line and accessing law enforcement records does lower that amount of hubris inherent in all of us. It is a public service. No longer do you have to be a Joe Neal to receive 15 minutes of fame for an indiscretion or crime that normally would appear in a back page in the newspaper or receive 4 seconds on the TV news, these days even Joe Blow gets the front page treatment.
In today’s world, our actions (good and bad) follow us for life.