The one question every new client asks me in our initial meeting is "How does my case look?" And without exception, from speeding to federal drug conspiracy cases, my answer is always the same: "I'll have to see the evidence first."
For it is the evidence, specifically the type of evidence, that makes or breaks a case on either side. Not all evidence in created equal. A good lawyer can suppress drugs illegally seized in a vehicle or home, cross examine a snitch by revealing his bias to please the government in exchange for a good plea deal, or explain an errant fingerprint in a sometimes inconvenient location. But the paper trail, as innocuous as it seems, is by far the most damaging to the client and the most difficult to overcome.
Even though the story is only in its infancy, it appears soon to be NBA rookie O.J. Mayo has a mountain of paper to climb. Mayo's confidant, Rodney Guillory, allegedly purchased some of the improper benefits with an American Express card registered to a non-profit named The National Organization of Sickle Cell Prevention and Awareness Foundation. It may as well be have been called "The Vanilla Named Straw Company."*
Now O.J. will have to explain why the flat screen in his dorm room matched the one purchased by Guillory on that AMEX. The investigators can track the exact location and time of the purchase. Same with the clothes. And the meals. And the airline tickets. And more meals. If O.J. is lucky enough, the security cameras in the stores may even show him smiling like Christmas came twice this year; but this time Santa was dressed as Rodney Guillory.
The point is simple: Where has all the discretion gone? What happened to the good old days of a mysterious envelope of cash showing up under the dormroom door. The days when a star athlete could walk into the local diner, and the manager would wink at him to let him know "this one's on the house." In an attempt to seem flashy and a real playa, the Rodney Guillory's of the world disservice these athletes by exposing them to liability. If the ultimate goal is to make your client the biggest thing in the sport, starting off a career with questionable character is no way to start. Sorry, O.J.
As for Rodney Guillory, it's a misdemeanor in California to provide the type of benefits he allegedly supplied to Mayo. If Guillory came into my office and asked me how his case looks, I'd tell him it looks like it may be time to take a plea.
*Footnote: A straw purchaser is an entity that is used to place distance between the merchant and the real buyer. The situation often arises in purchasing real estate or firearms. A party that is prohibited from buying those items uses a “clean” intermediary to make the buy on their behalf. In this instance, The National Organization of Sickle Cell Prevention and Awareness Foundation is clearly the “clean” middle step between the agent and Mayo. Basically, the company could have been named anything.