IT IS UNDERSTANDABLE that some corporations and their officers are opposed to several important parts of the proposed criminal code. Those provisions, if they become law, will increase the penalties that can be levied on aompanies that commit crimes and expand the personal liability of some executives for criminal acts committed by their companies. Such changes would make life more risky for corporations that either ignore the law or operate as close to its edge as they can.
What is not so understandable is why the American Bar Association decided recently to alter what had seemed to be its policy and join that opposition. The lawyers urging it to do so were those who generally pay little attention to criminal-law reforms but whose clients are mostly corporations. Their views prevailed over those of the lawyers who specialize in criminal law -- prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and professors. The result so clearly reflects a preference for clinets' interest over public interest that Congress shoul ignore the Bar Association's recommendations.
Among the proposed features of the code disapproved by the Bar Association is one that would permit the sentencing judge in a fraud case to require the offending corporation to notify all its victims so they could seek restitution. As a matter of public policey, that represents an improvement over simply imposing a fine. It might well cost the guilty corporation more money than would a fine, but it would at least create a possibility that those who had been cheated could be made whole.
Similarly, the code provisions substantially increasing the fines that may be imposed on corporations might not serve corporate interests, but they would serve the public. The $50,000 maximum that can now be levied in a criminal price-fixing case, for example, is so small compared with the profits a price-fixing scheme can generate that it is not a signifcant deterrent. For that matter, given the rising profits of corporations and the steady inflation, the $500,000 maximum set by the proposed code may not be high enough either.
These and other provisions of the proposed code are not the attack on business that some businessmen -- and their lawyers -- perceive them to be. They are the product of a serious and careful effort to reduce white-collar crime and to provide average citizens with more protection against corporate crime.