There's a wonderful scene in Mel Brooks' original version of The Producers in which a jury foreman rises and states "We find the defendants incredibly guilty."
In related news, blogger Michael Petrelis this week pleaded no contest to charges stemming from his admitted attempt to photograph Supervisor Scott Wiener in the act of urinating and the blogger's subsequent posting of that photo on the Internet.
In a prepared statement, Petrelis admits that he "made a mistake" and "that mistake will never happen again." But he also essentially admits that he's learned nothing from this ordeal and his contrition is meaningless.
Let's start with the wording of his non-apology:
See Also: Law Prof Calls Petrelis Blog "Public Confession"
I needed to use the public men's room at City Hall and during the 26-seconds I was in there, I made a mistake and snapped a photo of an elected official at the sink. That mistake will never happen again.
The photo was posted to my blog and that began the misuse of power by the elected official that led to the events bringing us here today. (emphasis ours)
Even now, Petrelis is shifting blame to Wiener for objecting to Petrelis' "mistake" rather than taking responsibility for the mistake. And we'll get to that.
But first, the wording: "I ... snapped a photo of an elected official at the sink. That mistake will never happen again." Never again will this blogger brandish a photographic device at a public official standing before a porcelain hand-washing device. But that's not how Petrelis put it last year
in a blog article he titled "Peeking at Wiener's Wiener in City Hall Men's Room."
If the headline didn't make Petrelis' goals clear, the text did:
My new camera was ready for use in the second floor men's room at City Hall on Friday afternoon when I walked in. Scott Wiener was standing at the urinal and had just started to tinkle as I entered and the camera took 4-6 seconds to focus, enough time for him to put away his wiener and zipper up.
The only photo I caught was of him grabbing his toothbrush from the wash basin. He sighed heavily and with exasperation having to not only have to interact with me, but in a restroom and with a camera going off. I made small talk the beautiful day and he left in a huff.
Petrelis was subsequently charged with a violation of Section 647(j)
of the penal code, which deals with spying on or recording someone in an "area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy."
So if Petrelis really just wanted to snap "a photo of an elected official at the sink," he'd have considerable wiggle room here; people don't necessarily expect privacy while washing their hands or brushing their teeth. But the blogger's gratuitous admission that he was waylaying the supervisor in mid-piss with hopes of photographing his penis -- and only failed because he was too damn slow -- is an admission of guilt.
"An 'attempt' is when an individual with intent to complete an act takes some action toward the completion of that act -- and this guy [Petrelis] has said exactly that. He's confessed in public," legal scholar Mort Cohen
told us last year. "If he's accused of trying to take a picture of [Wiener] urinating? I'd say that's a crime. Attempt
is a crime."
So, Petrelis is incredibly
guilty -- and, frankly, rather lucky to get off with so light a punishment
after pleading no contest. But that's good: It would have benefited no one for Petrelis to be incarcerated. It likely wouldn't have taught him any lessons. His insufferable statement bemoaned Wiener "misusing his power" and putting Petrelis "through a legal hassle." It's hard to imagine that a real show of contrition from the guilty party at the onset of this affair -- instead of a dose of self-righteousness impressive by even this city's standards -- wouldn't have nipped the problem in the bud months ago. And a stiff sentence likely would have only rendered Petrelis more resolute in his infallibility.
"Had I taken a photo of an ordinary gay citizen in a public men's room, and he complained to the legal authorities about it," Petrelis wrote, "I seriously doubt the complaint would have resulted in the investigation and prosecution I have faced."
If Petrelis had done the above and posted photos and an incriminating blog post about it, his speculation is dubious. And had he publicly crowed about photographing the penises of random bathroom-users instead of his political foe Scott Wiener, he'd have been pilloried as a degenerate -- instead of being able to cloak his act as a political statement and enjoy a measure of support in his spat with the polarizing Castro supervisor.
He'd also have likely gotten a punch in the nose. It's hard to advocate for extrajudicial punishment -- but that might have provided a lesson this "legal hassle" has failed to impart.