December 2, 2019

by Matt Barkett

Take the deal or Fight On?

As the college admission scandal continues to unfold, it raises an age-old question: is it wiser to take a plea bargain and a short sentence with a fine so you can get on with your life? Or rather fight a legal battle to the end, risking major fines and a long prison sentence if you lose in court? Both Lori Loughlin and fellow actress Felicity Huffman faced this question and chose radically different paths.

Huffman took the deal. She pleaded guilty to fraud and was sentenced to 14 days of incarceration, one-year supervised release, paid a $30,000 fine and was ordered to perform 250 hours of community service. While certainly a painful outcome, she was released from jail after spending just 11 days there, spent Thanksgiving with her family and is now ready to move on with her life. She has also begun the process of rebuilding her reputation by pledging to work with inmates after her brief experience in prison, clearly an important step as she resumes her acting career and like many before her (read: Martha Stewart) puts this incident in the rear view mirror. Sentence served; crisis over; life goes on.

But what awaits Loughlin? The specter of a long prison sentence has already taken a toll following almost a year of public shaming while uncertainty remains about her future as she and her husband prepare for what should be a circus-like atmosphere at their upcoming trial. Still, there are no signs of a plea deal anytime soon despite other defendants in the scandal receiving increasingly long sentences as the year drags on.

What we do know is that this case will continue to draw a media frenzy on both traditional and social media platforms. Regardless of the outcome at trial, has irreparable damage already been done to Loughlin’s reputation?

Now her daughter Olivia Jade, one of the beneficiaries of Loughlin’s desperate actions to get her children into the University of Southern California, has also begun to reboot her online life and image. Without the shadow of possible prison life ahead, it’s reasonable to assume Olivia can make a comeback. Was she an unwitting victim or an active participant? Social media will decide, and her proven ability to navigate and monetize the online world certainly gives her an advantage. Of course, her mother has no such edge in the court of law.

Time will tell whether Loughlin’s gamble will pay off. But it’s easy to see why Huffman took the deal. Thanksgiving dinner tastes a lot better at home with family even if you have to eat some crow in the short term in order to get there.

Want to talk about managing a crisis you’re facing? Contact Matt Barkett at mbarkett@dix-eaton.com.