Do they coincide on this issue? Andy Becket is an extremely skilled and competent lawyer working for the firm of Charles Wheeler. He has defended numerous clients with great success and renown. He has also earned a friendship with the firm’s management, including Wheeler himself. However, he had accomplished this by means of evading mention of the fact of his homosexuality, a lifestyle against which Wheeler holds a prejudice. When Andy receives AIDS as a result of an act of recklessness on his part, he attempts to conceal the illness, but to no avail.
The lesions are visible to those who can recognize them, and the Wheeler firm stages the loss of a letter in a crucial case. Since Andy had furnished the letter in the first place, the loss is blamed on him, and he is fired. The attitude of Wheeler and his partners toward Andy changes noticeably and, despite their past confidence in him, they now accuse him of incompetence. Andy seeks help from the attorney Miller, who himself exhibits a strong dislike toward homosexuals. After initially declining Anta’s offer, Miller discovers that the discrimination Andy had faced is illegal, and that he would be able to prove it.
Miller gradually acquaints himself with Andy on a personal level and realizes that he is not the pervert that the dominant culture portrays all nonsexual to be. Andy is an admirer of opera, a man devoted to his family, an avid reader, and one who is able to separate the public and private spheres of life so that his orientation does not interfere with his career. As Anta’s illness takes a greater toll on him, Miller comes to exhibit greater passion for the case and the welfare of his client, as the endeavor of Mr.. Becket comes to assume an ideological and not merely a monetary significance.
The trial of Wheeler & Co. Proceeds via the questioning of a series of witnesses, whose testimony determines that Wheeler does in fact hold prejudices against lifestyles rather than diseases. He tends to show distaste for “African-American” earrings and utter derogatory jokes about homosexuals. Miller endeavors to prove that Wheeler did have knowledge of Anta’s AIDS when he staged the letter disappearance. Miller is able to accomplish this by employing shock as a tool. He asks Andy to reveal the lesions on his chest, which would have been visible on his face at the time Of Anta’s final days at the firm.
He also poses questions to witnesses about their orientation, inquiries which arouse a fervent disgust and dismay on the part of the court and the witnesses. Yet Miller seeks, by this method, to challenge he prevailing prejudice in a society that wishes to have nothing to do with homosexuals. If the topic is indeed up for discussion, Miller wishes that there would be no taboos that would impede the carrying out of justice in the case. The jury, after swift deliberation, decides that Wheeler is indeed guilty of violating the law and award Andy a sizeable compensation.
The Wheeler firm will file an appeal, but Andy will not live to see the end of it. He collapses in the courtroom and is taken to the hospital. He dies that night, after parting on friendly terms with his family, his partner, and Miller. Though his case is not yet fully closed, he had won the trial and refused to passively accept the prejudice that lost him his job. The decision to compensate Andy for the wrongs done to him by the Wheeler firm somewhat reflected the principle of beneficence, the rewarding of a man for his assertion of dignity in the final days of his life.
However, the decision does not qualify as one exhibiting malefaction, since the Wheeler firm lost much more money than it would have by merely paying Anta’s lost salary. In effect, the Wheeler firm was deprived Of many of its funds simply as a result Of committing one illegal act. Moreover, Charles Wheeler’s autonomy to manage his firm, and its composition, as he saw fit, was violated, as the law dictated to him on what terms he could and could not fire his employees. Was justice necessarily done?
It was clear that Andy deserved to remain on the job due to his merits, but does the government have the paternalistic authority to intervene in a businessman’s right to manage his firm, his private property, as he sees fit, even if this management is misguided? The court’s decision smacked of consequentiality, pursuing reparations to Andy for physical and psychological harms without considering that the means of such pursuit loud intrude upon Charles Wheeler’s freedom and the financial future of his company. To the court, the end seems to have justified the means.
An alternative to the decision carried out by the court could have been exercised had a moral theory rather than the law been the benchmark of judgment (or had the law conformed to moral theory). In such a scenario, the court could have issued a public condemnation of Wheeler’s behavior without fining him or otherwise penalizing him for committing a crime. Since Andy would not have enjoyed the financial fruits of his victory, anyway, this decision would till practice beneficence toward him by affirming that he had not lost his dignity and competence in his profession and by displaying sympathy with his plight.
But the decision would also practice malefaction toward Wheeler, whose firm’s affairs would not be devastated, and whose autonomy to manage it as he sees fit would not be breached. Perhaps the court could have restored to Andy the honorary, posthumous status of an employee of the Wheeler firm and thus have reversed the wrong that was dealt to him by his firing. In this way, it could both abide by the law and the ethics of principles, and justice would be done.