Jewish World Review Sept. 16, 2003 / 19 Elul, 5763
Famous 'bad girls' clear the air
It's a good week to read about two successful businesswomen who went bad.
Let's start with an obvious lawbreaker -- Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood madam whose $5 million call-girl ring kept tabloid TV supplied with juicy material during the mid-'90s.
She can be found offering her professional thoughts about why prostitution should be legal to the readers of, of all places, Legal Affairs, a magazine that aims to do the impossible -- provide "literate and probing writing" and "vibrant, challenging conversation" about the law.
Fleiss, who served three years for nonsexual crimes such as money laundering, tells how she ran her business and argues that prostitution doesn't have to be dangerous or demeaning to its many willing practitioners and customers.
She is not the greatest advocate for the legalization of prostitution. But making the basic case for decriminalization, she contends there is no downside to legalizing prostitution, as long as it is taxed and regulated to protect the hookers from the relatively few men who want to beat them up or skip out on paying for them.
"It's outrageous," Fleiss says, on a page directly across from a long, for-law-clerks-only article on how young Ruth Bader Ginsburg challenged the Supreme Court to treat gender like race long before she became one of its members.
"Here's a woman," Fleiss says, not referring to Justice Ginsburg, "who has performed a service to the best of her abilities and to her client's satisfaction. But nothing will happen to that client, because he knows he won't be prosecuted for refusing to pay for sex."
Another famous, very highly hated but more legitimately successful business woman who allegedly took a walk on the bad side is Martha Stewart, the cover girl for Reason magazine's October issue.
Reason loves "St. Martha," as it dubs her. And, in a fairly breezy explanation of the legal complexities of the government's dubious and probably unprovable case against her, lawyer-writer Michael McMenamin explains why she "should go to heaven and the SEC (which charged her with securities fraud) should go to hell."
It's complicated. It's legalistic. It's more business and securities and legal info than any maker of individually stenciled party placemats would ever want to know.
But it looks as if Stewart, who was not charged with perjury or insider trading for selling her ImClone stock before she knew its price would plummet, will not be manufacturing hand-painted gift wrap in Sing Sing this Christmas.
"Without a credible claim of insider trading against Stewart," McMenamin concludes, "the securities fraud charge based on her public (and truthful) denials of the government-leaked claims that she was guilty of insider trading will collapse.
"Martha will walk," he predicts, "and it will be a good thing. But she and her shareholders (of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia) will have paid an unnecessary price. That's not a good thing. It's a disgrace. And a damn shame."
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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald