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'Good Wife,' Good Law: Voter Fraud in a Box

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on April 29, 2013 12:07 PM

The season finale of "The Good Wife" was a doozy, with the buzz of election night, a midnight court battle, and a cameo by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Recap: 'What's in the Box?'

Alicia, Will, and Diane handle a series of emergency court proceedings to deal with potential ballot-box stuffing in Peter Florrick's gubernatorial campaign. They file a motion with the court to get the votes thrown out. But when they learn that most of the votes in the box were cast for Peter, they burn the midnight oil to reverse course.

But then, an ethical dilemma: Will sees surveillance footage of a Florrick campaign worker wheeling out the ballot box. Surprise! It was the Florrick campagin that committed voter fraud. If Will presents this evidence in court, Peter is expected to lose the motion, which will cost him the election.

In a meeting with Peter, Will says the footage of the voter fraud "is a decision for the client to make." Peter refuses to decide, leaving Will to wrestle with the ethical dilemma.

What do you get when a lawyer makes a decision for a politician? Suppressed evidence! Will doesn't present the Florrick voter fraud evidence and the stuffed ballots get counted in. Peter (sort of unethically) wins the election! (Only "sort of" because it turns out he didn't even need the fraudulent votes to win.)

The final kicker (spoiler alert!): Alicia leaves Lockhart/Gardner for Cary's new firm.

Reality Check: Decisions Could Lead to Disbarment

The reality of the profession is that lawyers go to great lengths to defend even the least sympathetic clients. But sometimes that zeal for advocacy crosses the boundary into ethical misconduct that's worthy of disciplinary action.

In Illinois, a lawyer can, but doesn't have to, withdraw from representing a client when the client is using the lawyer's services to commit a crime or an act of fraud.

In Will's case, he should have withdrawn his representation as soon as he saw the footage. It''s a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation -- which is a conflict of interest. If he submits the evidence, his client's case is over. But if he hides it, it's an ethical no-no in the legal profession.

A separate conflict of interest is the lady love between Will and Peter. When you threaten tell your client to "punch you in the face" because you're in love with his wife, it's time to withdraw representation.

A bigger problem here is that Will -- not Peter -- decided to hide the evidence and assist with the voter fraud. By failing to present the surveillance footage in court, Will actively assisted with committing a federal election crime. In the real world, a lawyer can get disbarred for conduct like that -- and worse.

The judge highlighted the sanctity of the voting process. At its core, the finale reminds us of the need to preserve integrity just as much in the legal process as in the political process. As Diane sadly pointed out, "elections are being won in court these days."

What did you think of this week's episode of "The Good Wife"? Is the show guilty of making any legal mistakes? Check back here for more legal recaps of "The Good Wife," and send us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #TheGoodWife.

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