JUDGE FISH: A CHANGE OF HEART?

law joe “the hanging judge” fish has loosened the noose, at least for socialite carol peeler, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud in Fish’s U.S. District court last March (“Whose Case Is It, Anyway?” June). Peeler, who faced 56 years in prison on a 21-count criminal indictment, got a slap on her bejeweled wrist: probation, $250,000 in fines and retribution, and some 1,000 hours of volunteer work.

“That’s certainly more hours than the average junior leaguer puts in, but it’s hardly punishment,” says one badly bruised Hillcrest investor.

Fish, who was bombarded with letters about Peeler from prominent Park Cities types, departed from his usual tough stance on white-collar crime. Compare Peeler’s case with that of Shirley Harris, also accused of fraud: both are mothers who did business with their husbands. Peeler’s scheme did $750 million in damage, according to the IRS; Harris’s, $7 million, according to court records. Peeler had day-to-day involvement in the tax scheme; Harris did some office work, but was primarily a middle-class housewife. While Fish suggested that Peeler “change her lifestyle,” he changed Shirley Harris’s life for her- with a sentence of 60 years in federal prison.

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