Punishment of capital: sentence killer corporations to death


From the 2-6-00 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Last Sunday, the Mapes got the death penalty for the crime of growing old and powerless. On our last day on earth, you and I can only hope to look as good as did that venerable and stylish hotel when she checked out.

The execution site will almost certainly be delivered up to some as yet nameless blackguard who cut some skulduggerous deal to enrich some soul-less corporation. As usual, the taxpayers will eventually pay to clean up the bloody mess.

In the end, it will have been nobody's fault. It's never anybody's fault unless they're old, poor or powerless.

Miscarriages of justice have been figuratively and literally falling out of the sky. ValuJet Airlines, so lax that it allowed oxygen canisters to blow up one of its planes over the Everglades, still flies under the name of Air Tran Airways.

Sierra Chemical blew up some of its workers east of Sparks. It hired killer lawyers, survived and is doing business as usual. Our heartless and soul-less workers compensation insurance system left the bodies of some of the dead stranded in Atlanta because it would not pay their way to Mexico for a decent burial. Sierra Chemical didn't pay the tab, either.

Ford Pintos, Mustangs and Chevy trucks with sidesaddle gas tanks have blown up on a (pardon the pun) chillingly regular basis.

We've gotten used to abuse. The corporate accountant, who blithely weighs the cost of wrongful death lawsuits vs. fixing a manufacturing mistake, has become so trite a dramatic device as to have all but disappeared from TV.

A little over a century ago, a pro-business U.S. Supreme Court manufactured new law out of thin air. The black robes bestowed upon corporations the legal status of personhood. Babies in the womb don't enjoy that automatic status today.

The personhood of corporations has not made them human, but has made human managers do inhuman things. The purpose of a corporation is to shield assets from anyone and everyone who might have a claim against them. Such as the family of the guy turned into a tortilla crisp in his new car.

You and I underwrite the depredations of corporations every day. Firms can deduct from their income taxes the costs of making sure no plaintiff ever gets paid. It's so bad now that companies are taking the next step, persuading pliable politicians to pass laws barring many types of cases from going before a jury of real people.

What happens on the rare occasion in which a company is found criminally guilty?

Not much. Usually a cash fine gets substantially reduced after endless appeals.

When dealing with corporations, it's almost never anyone's fault.

I've got a better idea. Apply criminal law to corporations as though they were actually in-the-flesh people.

If a corporation is found guilty of willfully killing someone, give it the death penalty. I'm not talking only the rare case of a company paying for a hit man, but also if its executives knew that some action or inaction would mortally endanger somebody. In that case, make the death penalty available.

Allow a corporation the same appeal rights as a real person. But when all appeals are exhausted, kill it.

Dismantle it. Put the company out of business. Padlock the doors. Governments already do that to public nuisances every day.

Particularly nasty cases, e.g., the Titanic, would bring about not only death and dismemberment, but also everlasting public disgrace. All the company's assets would be laid to waste without any salvage value, selloff or auction. Everything ends up like the Mapes. All formerly corporate land sits vacant for an appropriate number of years. Stockholders forfeit all ownership rights and get nothing for their equity. Executives responsible do serious jail time.

But what about all the lost jobs? Productivity? All the innocent people who would get hurt? The erosion of the local tax base?


If the death penalty is supposed to be a deterrent, let's see if it deters managers and stockholders of a ValuJet or Sierra Chemical. Fearful of losing the entirety of their investment, and perhaps more, maybe they'd get involved enough to make sure their company stops its predatory practices.

I'd add one more thing: make stockholders personally liable. Remember, corporations are formed to shield assets. If a company does something actionable, stockholders usually can't be personally sued.

Under Barbano's Law, that would change. If an outfit kills people and is especially brutal at it, the law should come after stockholders and everything they own.

All this promotes good, old fashioned, conservative, traditional, American family values of hard work and personal responsibility.

This death penalty thing has some real possibilities.

SEE YOU IN COURT. I've been getting reports that Officer Melvin Gentry's civil rights lawsuit against the City of Sparks is the best show in town.

One Sparks police supervisor was reportedly asked "do you use the term 'Buckwheat' on a regular basis?" The response: "Yes, but not in a derogatory manner."

Maybe the guy's just into pancakes. Eddie Murphy, call your office.

The show is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the new federal courthouse at S. Virginia and Liberty in Reno. It should last through at least Wednesday. If you plan to attend, wear as little metal as possible because the feds really frisk the customers.

Be well. Raise hell.

NevadaLabor.com | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past three years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where this column appeared on 2/6/00.

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