Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish poet, got it mostly correct when he warned in the early 1800s of the dangers of dissembling.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
But reckless truth-telling is not without danger, hence the unattributed warning to never tell a lie without being certain the truth will not be discovered.
Deceit can be a messy business with all kinds of unforeseen consequences.
Just ask former DuPage County Circuit Judge Patrick O’Shea.
Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court put the finishing touches on the 70-year-old O’Shea’s legal career by taking away his license to practice law.
That followed a decision by the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board to remove him from the bench.
That followed a criminal prosecution.
O’Shea escaped conviction through a combination of legal vagaries and good lawyering. But he could not escape the web of lies he told.
What did O’Shea, who was elected a judge in 2012, do?
In 2017, he was in
his Wheaton apartment handling one of his firearms. He accidentally discharged the weapon, and the bullet went through the wall into his neighbors’ apartment. Fortunately, they were not home.
The honest thing to do was for O’Shea to inform the apartment managers and neighbors of his accident, offer to pay for the damage and cooperate with any subsequent inquiries.
Instead, he made up a story about a nail hole in his wall and sought to make the repairs himself.
But his plan to avoid recriminations ran awry when the neighbors discovered the spent bullet and contacted police.
Investigators subsequently paid a visit to O’Shea to ask about what he knew about what had happened.
The judge then made a fatal error. He told an easily provable lie.
O’Shea first denied know anything about the fired bullet. Then he suggested his son had fired the shot without O’Shea’s knowledge. After a few minutes of making futile misstatements, O’Shea reluctantly told the truth.
He skated on a criminal charge of reckless conduct when he went to trial. But his appearance before the Judicial Inquiry Board did not go well because O’Shea — once again — made a flawed decision to tell another set of lies.
Since he was before the board for lying to police, O’Shea this time decided to lie about the police. He testified that he readily admitted firing the shot but that two officers were themselves lying when they reported that O’Shea didn’t initially tell them the truth.
The judge’s testimony was rejected by board members.
So that’s two sets of lies — first to the police and then about the police.
Holding that the judiciary cannot tolerate judges who are not truthful, the board threw O’Shea off the bench in September 2019.
(The O’Shea saga got a lot of attention in DuPage County, but not enough for voters to deny him a win in his 2018 campaign for retention to a second
The powers-that-be were not through with O’Shea yet, but apparently, O’Shea was done. When the state Attorney’s Registration and Disciplinary Commission went after O’Shea’s law license for his series of lies, he did not resist.
O’Shea consented to whatever discipline the state Supreme Court thought was necessary. As a consequence, he was suspended from the practice of law for one year and “until further order of the court.”
Generally speaking, that “until further order” requirement means his license will never be restored.
What’s the age-old lesson here? If you’re going to lie, don’t get caught. That’s God’s honest truth.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at email@example.com or 217-393-8251.