No Rights, No Responsibilities

Jim Burroway

November 27th, 2006

Michael KopperOn the Friday before Thanksgiving, Michael Kopper, once an Enron managing director in finance and the head of investor relations was sentenced to 37 months in prison. He pled guilty to colluding with Enron chief Andrew Fastow by helping cook Enron’s books. Both made millions as Enron employees, retirees, and shareholders lost everything. Kopper will serve his reduced sentence after having pled guilty four years ago and agreeing to help prosecutors. He was also forced to return $8 million of his ill-gotten gains to the government and to relinquish his rights to another $4 million through forfeiture proceedings.

I don’t normally write about corporate scandals or partisan politics, but it’s worthy to note this because Michael Kopper is gay, and because he is not legally married to his domestic partner William Dodson, authorities could not go after Dodson’s share of the loot which is another $9 million. According to the Washington Blade:

The fact that U.S. and Texas laws do not recognize same-sex relationships most likely prompted authorities against going after Dodson’s financial gains in the Enron affair, financial observers have said. Federal prosecutors forced the married spouses of several Enron figures to forfeit money they obtained in schemes operated jointly with Enron executives.

According to the Houston Chronicle and other media accounts, authorities have placed Dodson in the same “third party” category of individuals or entities, including churches and hospitals, that received tainted Enron money that the government won’t attempt to recoup.

Opponents to same-sex marriage often focus on all the benefits that gays and lesbians allegedly are after, as if these are some sort of jackpot winnings that we’re trying to elbow our way in to. But this opposition doesn’t consider the mutual responsibilities that marriage demands on us — not just responsibilities to each other as a couple, but responsibilities that we are held to as a couple to society as a whole. If society does not officially recongnize a couple, then it cannot demand anything of them because, after all, legally they don’t exist.

With today’s laws, one partner can go bankrupt while the other keeps every cent he has squirreled away. One partner can claim disability benefits while the other is gainfully employed. One partner can run up debts and the other partner is not held accountable to the credit card companies. And of course, neither partner is paying the marriage penalty when tax time comes around.

You cannot have rights without responsibilities; this axiom has been recognized since time immemorial. And when it comes to the law, the converse is often true: you cannot enforce responsibilities without conferring the rights that go with them. Justice is not served when William Dodson is allowed to keep $9 million in stolen funds as retirees are forced to sell their homes and work at fast food joints to pay the bills. But justice is also not served when gay and lesbian couples are blocked from exercising their rights and responsibilities as citizens. It’s ironic — and sad — to see the point illustrated in such sharp focus as it is here.


May 16th, 2008

It’s a bit of a misstatement to say that “authorities could not go after Dobson’s share.” While it is true that Dobson does not have the same fiscal obligation as, say, Lea Fastow in similar circumstances, as the quote notes, it could have been a significant hassle for prosecutors to seize those funds, and partly for the non-recognized “marriage.” At the same time, if it could have been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Dodson was aware of what was going on with Chewco that provided him with that $9 million, he could have been very easily indicted as a co-conspirator. It’s mostly the issue of prosecutors not being able to pursue Dodson as such that may have prompted abandoment of any pursuit of reclamation. If the government wanted that money that badly, they would find a way to get it somewhere within the law..


July 30th, 2009

A person on the picture is not Andrew Fastow.

Timothy Kincaid

July 30th, 2009


This picture is of Michael Kopper, the subject of this commentary.

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