About nine years ago Martha Stewart went to live in a federal prison because she was caught lying about a stock transaction to federal prosecutors. The reason she went to prison is what might be called the Celebrity Criminal Syndrome. This refers to the fact that famous people are much more like to go to jail for committing a crime the rest of us would only be fined for because prosecutors and judges like to use celebrities to set an example. It is one very good reason why celebrities should not engage in any questionable activity, they are highly vulnerable.
Pool photo by David Handschuh
Ms. Stewart is now in court on a different manner. She has (or has not, that is what the trial is about) a contract for exclusivity with Macy’s and she is now selling her products at J. C. Penney. This may or may not be a contract violation, who knows or who cares. But it is interesting to see how Ms. Stewart is handling herself in court. The conclusion here, pretty well.
Ms. Stewart, who never testified in her insider trading trial, seemed at ease on the stand. She presented cool, crisp testimony meant to support her attempt to sell her home merchandise not just throughMacy’s, with which she has an exclusive contract in some categories, but also through its rival J. C. Penney.
And no its not just that she is appearing as a competent witness, it is that she is able to be relaxed about her past legal problems, is not defensive and indeed sounds like a real, decent person.
She touched briefly on her time in prison. In 2003, Ms. Stewart was indicted on charges of securities fraud and obstruction of justice having to do with insider trading of shares in the drug maker ImClone. A trial followed in 2004, and in October of that year, she went to prison for a five-month term.
“I had a terrible time personally, and that could have taken down the company; it did not. It could’ve taken down the brand; it did not,” Ms. Stewart said on Tuesday. “But I must tell you that rebuilding is a lot harder than building.”
That sounds about the right way to deal with the issue, and a little humor is not bad either.
With a lawyer for her company, Eric Seiler, Ms. Stewart was more relaxed.
Mr. Seiler, trying to indicate how Ms. Stewart split her day between the publishing and merchandising divisions of her company, asked her, “How do you do your time?”
“I did my time,” she replied, as the courtroom broke into laughter.
So while The Dismal Political Economist does now own any Martha Stewart products, and does not intend to own any, and while we think her arrogance that led to her incarceration was fairly disgusting, it is hard not to admire her resolve and determination. Unless of course the court rules that indeed she did break her contract with Macy’s, in which case we will go back to thinking of her as a grubby opportunist. The DPE does not like people who violate contracts.