For such a huge success, Breaking Bad followed the plot lines of the immortal morality plays like Macbeth: a good man with good intentions, progressively makes tiny self-rationilizing decisions down the path to hell. Most viewers, at least the one’s I talk with, get hooked on the money and the power without seeing this cautionary tale of how normal, even likable people, become monsters. We root for Walter White because the lightening-bolt-from-above-cancer-diagnosis creates the immediate need to protect his family. We empathize, so much so, we forget that Walter White had a choice. His former business partner, Elliott Schwartz, offered employment, health insurance and security for his family.
Better Call Saul continues? Or rather sets up the Breaking Bad franchise focusing now on 2001 attorney Jimmy McGill, soon to be known as Saul Goodman. McGill, unlike White, dives right into the slimy. I’m not talking about the opening scenes where he defends three young men who, as McGill puts it in his closing argument, were just feeling their oats in a fit of weren’t-we-all-that-stupid-when-we-were-nineteen. You almost go with it, until the prosecuting attorney wordlessly drags the squeaking television stand before the jury, puts in the video tape, and reveals the accused’s own video of them breaking into a funeral home, cutting off a deceased’s head and having sex with it.
Where McGill starts to, and then fully, breaks the line is when he tries to land a lucrative case defending a government treasurer implicated in the loss of nearly two million dollars. McGill fakes a British-accented receptionist when taking there calls. When McGill finds out that the potential client is talking with other potential attorneys, McGill concocts a fraudulent scheme to stage an accident which will be “caused” by the treasurer’s wife. McGill plans to “happen” to stop by, supposedly extract at least $2,000.00 from her, and resolve the “staged” accident in order to land her husband’s larger criminal case.
The Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct govern how lawyers must conduct themselves. The Supreme Court has the authority to investigate, punish, and even disbar attorney’s who are accused of violating legal ethics. Sadly I find it difficult to watch any movie or television show involving a lawyer without thinking how the Colorado Supreme Court would deal with that character’s actions.
Which brings us to McGill’s actions on the first show of the first season. Where to start?
Rule 4.1 prohibits making a false statement of material fact or law to a third person. Does pretending to have a British receptionist constitute a “material fact?” Probably not. When negotiating, the rule states, “Under generally accepted conventions in negotiation, certain types of statements ordinarily are not taken as statements of fact. Estimates of price or value placed on the subject of a transaction and a party’s intentions as to an acceptable settlement of a claim are ordinarily in this category, and so is the existence of an undisclosed principal except where nondisclosure of the principal would constitute fraud. Lawyers should be mindful of their obligations under applicable law to avoid criminal and tortious misrepresentation.
Does colluding with two skater-dudes to stage an accident violate the rule? Absolutely. Rule 4.1(a) provides, ” a lawyer is prohibited from counseling or assisting a client in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.” Convincing a person to pay money so that “the police aren’t called” violated Rule 4.5 Threatening Prosecution, “A lawyer shall not threaten criminal, administrative or disciplinary charges to obtain an advantage in a civil matter nor shall a lawyer present or participate in presenting criminal, administrative or disciplinary charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter.” (However a lawyer may notify “another person in a civil matter that the lawyer reasonably believes that the other’s conduct may violate criminal, administrative or disciplinary rules or statutes.”)
Jimmy McGill, unlike Walter White, doesn’t slowly descend into questionable ethics. He starts there, but it makes for great television.
Stay Tuned For Part 2! Coming later this week!