Obscure Legal Expression: "Kiss on the Wrist"

I was writing some fiction last night. I wanted to use the legal phrase "kiss on the wrist." I was concerned it would be too obscure and no one would understand the meaning, ruining the story.

Googling suggests my suspicion is probably spot on. I probably would have lost my readers.

I was just putting an end to an old story that I have grown bored with, so it wasn't terribly important. I ended up truncating that bit mostly out.

But now I feel the urge to tell the story behind this expression because it seems to not be readily available anywhere online. This article seems to be the best reference, and it really does not do justice to this delightful true story.

Sydney Biddle Barrows was a socialite who could trace her roots to people who came over on The Mayflower. Her family no longer had money, but they had taste and upper class manners and expectations.

She tried to go into fashion. She was working for a time as a buyer at a department store. Someone else came in and began buying shoddy purses and the like, apparently in exchange for kickbacks. When Sydney tried to put a stop to this, she ended up fired.

She was unemployed for some time and getting increasingly desperate when a friend invited her to make some money under the table at a call center. The call center was for a call girl service. She was booking appointments for sex workers.

The guy who ran it was a douchebag who treated everyone terribly, both his employees and his customers. Some breakpoint came where Sydney and some of her coworkers left and started their own service. This is how Sydney became a Madam running a prostitution ring.

She figured she couldn't possibly do any worse than her former employer. She figured that if she just did the exact opposite of everything he did, it would be a better business.

Her business was so classy that some of the men who frequented it stopped seeing call girls in other cities. They expected better and were no longer willing to stoop that low.

She was finally caught and charged with promoting prostitution in a very highly publicized case. Some reporter found out about her Mayflower roots, and dubbed her the Mayflower Madam.

She and her lawyer basically went through her business records and found the name of every lawyer who had ever been a client of her service. They submitted this long list of names as their initial witness list.

If this case had gone to court, with hundreds of lawyers lawyering up to protect their own interests, it would have sucked the New York court system down a black hole from which it might never have fully recovered. So, the court basically offered her a plea deal to get her the hell out of their court system.

She pled guilty to a misdemeanor and was slapped with a $5000 fine. Her lawyer quipped "They didn't give her a slap on the wrist. They gave her a kiss on the wrist."

(Told mostly from memory. I read the book Mayflower Madam: The Secret Life of Sydney Biddle Barrows years ago. Apologies for any inaccuracies.)

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