Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is There Guilt By Association?

I'm frankly sick and tired of the whole Rod Blagojevich scandal so I haven't followed the details very carefully. All I know is that he's the governor of Illinois who allegedly put President-elect Obama's vacant Senate seat up for sale. (I know, I know. He's innocent 'til proven guilty. But the FBI's wiretap transcript certainly makes him out to be a complete jack---.)

But what piqued my interest was a TV commentator who said President-elect Obama and Chief of Staff designate Rahm Emanuel will have "problems" since they supported Blagojevich's gubernatorial candidacy despite knowing his "shady character." The RNC was also quick to point out Obama's support of Blagojevich as well. I don't know what the commentator meant when he said Obama knew Blagojevich was a "shady character". (And how would the commentator know what Obama knew?)

Anyhow, this made me wonder: If you associate with someone who engages in financial/ethical wrongdoing, should (or will) your character be automatically impugned? Should you rebuke that person professionally and personally?

I’ve been thinking about this since my recent discussion with someone I occasionally do business, who I’ll call “Mr. C”. Mr. C is my smart, reliable go-to guy professionally. Whenever I have tough cases, I hire Mr. C to clean up the mess.

Last week Mr. C asked what I intended to do if and when I got laid off. I told him that I want to get another corporate job (versus a law firm job) since I'll likely get better benefits (e.g. matching 401k, ESOP plan, FSA, etc.) For some reason, I felt compelled to lay out my life plan to him. I told him once I pay off my debts in six years, I plan to buy a small place to live. Some time in my late 40's and early 50's, I plan to downshift my career to a government job until I qualify for Social Security and Medicare. (I’m considering working at the DMV like Patty and Selma from the Simpsons, or, the post office like Cliff Claven.)

Mr. C said my life plan was "the most depressing thing he ever heard", so I asked him what his grand future plans were. Big mistake! Mr. C said he was expecting a windfall in the near future and he was going to hide it from his wife. Once all his kids become legal adults, he planned to give the house to his wife and leave without a trace. He told me how he wanted to live a semi-nomadic life somewhere down south where no one can find him. He said he would leave a trust fund for his kids but he had no intention of paying spousal support.

I was stunned and said something to the effect of, “Sounds like someone’s suffering from a mid-life crisis!” We both laughed it off.

Notwithstanding this bizaare conversation, I've decided I'll continue to do business with him since what he does in his personal life is not my concern. I never took Community Property or Family Law classes during law school, so I don't know whether Mr. C's plans are illegal. (I do suspect it is illegal, though, since deserting a dependent spouse would presumably be against public policy.) Second of all, I'm not sure if it's even a plan. (Although a colleague previously told me that Mr. C told him the same story. If it IS a plan, he's pretty stupid to tell so many people.) Finally, none of this really matters to me since Mr. C is excellent at what he does and he gets the job assigned to him done well.

A friend (who is not in the industry and doesn't know Mr. C) said, "If he's willing to screw over his wife, he'll be willing to screw you too! You should disassociate from him." When I refused, the friend said, "Well, when he gets caught doing something unethical, the fact that you trusted him is going to reflect negatively upon you."

Initially, I'm not convinced that someone who complains he's sick of his marriage and wants to abandon it, necessarily has a propensity to do something unethical. But does his rant about his failing marriage (and his revenge fantasy) evidence his "shady character" and thus raise alarms? Is the dirt in someone's personal life a sufficient basis to abandon a professional and personal friendship? And isn't there the proverb: "Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone"?


Sallie's Niece said...

Holy crap, I can't believe he told you (and others) that plan! That's so illegal, unethical, immoral, etc. Is he a lawyer? Because if he is you may have to say something when he turns up missing one day I think (I suck at Ethics Law). Wow, I would totally disassociate with him if I were you. What a jerk! How old are the kids?

Miss M said...

While I think the guy sounds like a slimeball, I don't think you can judge what goes on inside a marriage. Maybe the wife is truly awful. This is why I try to stay away from personal stuff at work, there are sides of people I don't want to see. I don't have any advice to give, sorry.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather have a "dull" life plan than to be a jerk!

MoneyMateKate said...

I remember reading a hypothetical question that was a lot longer than this, but it went something like "Would you rather elect a leader who is a drunk and a womanizer, or one who has no vices and is monogamous?" (there was more criteria, but those are the only ones I remember). The drunk womanizer = Winston Churchill, the sober monogamist = Adolph Hitler. That really made me think about how much someone's personal history should be held against them.

As for Mr. C - I'm more concerned about his ability to write off his kids, adult or not, than his wife. What he's planning is cruel, but then again who knows what has gone on in their relationship. Think about it...if you stayed with a man who cheated on you left, right and center and rubbed your nose in it, knowing you wouldn't kick out the father of your children, couldn't you see treating him like this as soon as you could get away with it? But again...choosing to be dead to your kids is another thing entirely. Oops, I rambled. Sorry.

Shtinkykat said...

Sallie: No further comment about Mr. C's background, sorry, since I may have put forth more than I should already. But I'm writing this conversation off as a "wouldn't it be nice", mid-life crisis pipe dream.

Miss M: You're right about keeping personal discussions out of the workplace. A close second is drinking socially with co-workers and business associates since that's when most of this dirt comes out!

MOU: When he told me his plan, I thought to myself, "And you think my life plan is depressing??" But speaking of depressing, it also made me wonder whether he may be depressed.

MMK: Wow. That's an interesting example of how someone's personal life doesn't necessarily reflect how he/she would be professionally. I wondered about the kid situation too. He seemed to allude to the fact that he's the odd man out in his family. Either way, he may be a slimeball but there may actually be a sad story behind all of this. Again, another reason why I'm trying not to judge...

Ms. MoneyChat said...


As for distancing yourself, I say follow your personal convictions. There are some things that I just don't tolerate personally so I tend to distance myself from those actions/people - not because I judge the people, but because I choose to not have any place for certain things in my life.

btw...congrats on having a plan. at least you know where you going.

Donna said...

Hiding assets is illegal. If he does leave his wife and a judge finds out that he's done this, he's in deep poop.
Having left a terrible marriage myself, I can sympathize -- if that's truly what's going on. Maybe he needs to leave. But he needs to leave legally.
"No intention of paying spousal support"? It may not be up to him, especially if she has put her career on hold to raise their kids. He may owe her a few years' worth of catch-up. Alimony is a complex issue. Trying to dodge it could probably make things a lot worse.
That said, I probably would distance myself -- if for no other reason that if you get the reputation of being a good friend, you might be called upon to testify!