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Is there any satisfaction in seeing a giant fall?

By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2002

If you wait long enough, I've always believed, all things even out.

If you wait long enough, I've always believed, all things even out.

When I first interviewed the tax man at One Stop Bait and Tackle in 1997, he was shaking his head.

A major, giant, worldwide accounting firm had sent him a letter telling him he could no longer use his own name on his accounting business.

Their name, spelled with a one-letter difference, was copyrighted, they said, and Life As We Know It in the accounting world would end if someone waiting in line for a cup of red wigglers decided to stop and have his taxes (or, tee hee, annual audit) done while he was there.

Arthur Anderson refused.

What goes around, he has to be figuring now, comes around.

"Now I go to Publix and the cashiers look at me and say, "You just fired 7,000 people? You should be ashamed,' " said Anderson, who still leases office space in the tackle shop owned by his son who is also named Arthur Anderson. They are actually Arthur Anderson Jr. and Arthur Anderson III, but neither uses the additional titles.

And the fact that they spelled their name with an "o" instead of an "e," didn't keep Arthur Andersen Inc. accounting/paper-shredding giant from trying to bigfoot them into dropping the name.

"I sent them a letter and told them it was the name on my birth certificate, and it was the name I was born with and the name my son was born with," said the elder Andersen, "and that I wasn't going to stop using it."

I guess they just got busy with the Enron stuff and forgot about bullying the bait and tackle shop.

"I thought about suing them," said Anderson the Younger, who owns the legitimately fishy smelling end of the business, "saying they were giving my bait a bad name, but I've just been too busy."

Newspapers and news people around the company have been besieged by a letter-writing campaign in which Andersen employees are pointing out that most of them, including the thousands now losing their jobs, did nothing wrong and are being unfairly punished by the federal criminal indictment against the corporation.

I am not without sympathy for them, but most of us take on a risk when we work for employers who might turn out (nobody's been convicted of anything yet) to be doing something illegal and, while we might be protected from criminal prosecution ourselves, if our bosses drive us into the public relations nightmare occurring at Andersen and our companies lose that much business, we lose our jobs.

When any company for any reason loses a sizable part of its market, innocent people suffer. Firms that violate antipollution laws (during Democratic administrations, anyway), or safety laws or knowingly sell dangerous products, put their workers at risk, even if they are innocent of criminal charges.

Ask the folks who make Firestone Tires, Dalkon Shield IUDs, silicone breast implants or Agent Orange.

Even when the fault comes from outside, like the time Tylenol capsules were found laced with cyanide, the company, its employees and its stockholders suffer.

And in partial defense of the big Andersen firm, there are some cases of copyright infringement that appear silly on their faces but really aren't.

When Disney went after a small day care center a few years back for decorating its outside walls with copyrighted Disney characters, it looked like a classic case of bullying, but the danger is in creating a precedent. Millions of dollars are lost by Disney every year from people selling unauthorized items, and when Disney takes them to court, their case is endangered if someone can point to the day care center and say that Disney is allowing infringement in some cases and suing in others.

The two New Port Richey Andersons I have met are nice, likable guys, and I'm sure they aren't at all enjoying the real pain of innocent people caught up in their bosses' alleged nefarious behavior.

Well, except maybe for that one clown in the legal department who wrote that letter to Anderson the Elder a few years ago.

Seems like he could have been looking for more important legal issues to address.

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