The hero in “Les Mis” is a good man hounded by a mad policeman for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family.
Something like that.
The “Les Mis” defense is tricky as a literary device, let alone a legal defense, since you have to turn a criminal into a hero. As Victor Hugo proved, to get there you have to really stack the deck.
Although not accepted by any courts, the “Les Mis” defense has popular appeal. That's why Spirits Acquisitions Inc. is using it to re-launch the whiskey formerly known as Conecuh Ridge.
Here’s the angle (from the company's press release):
“Clyde May’s Whiskey is an American spirit that captures the spirit of a real American.
"Clyde May, a World War II veteran, returned home to Alabama to farm his land and raise his family. Though Clyde reared eight children, his farming endeavors were not as successful. He turned to the illegal trade of whiskey-making…to help supplement his income.”
In other words, if you’re a veteran, and better at making babies than earning money, it’s okay -- even noble -- to turn to crime.
When you romanticize criminal activity to commercialize it, this is where you go.
Patrick McGeeney, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Spirit Acquisitions Inc., didn’t do anything to soften the metaphor, he doubled down on it. “We are proud to relaunch this legendary brand. Clyde May was a true American hero who risked the law in order to provide for his family. He had a reputation for honesty, integrity and producing the finest whiskey in the area. We intend to stay true to Mr. May’s values and bring his whiskey back to life.”
Clyde May was an American hero who just did what he had to do to feed his family. You know, like Al Capone.
Spirit Acquisitions doesn’t mention that the first attempt to market this product, beginning about ten years ago, blew up when the president of the predecessor company, Clyde May’s son Kenny, got caught by Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control illegally selling whiskey from the trunk of his car.
Way to stay true to Clyde’s values, Kenny.
An august group like the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) should tell McGeeney that there is no place for a product like this in the American alcoholic beverages industry. Associating its products with crime and criminals is just about the stupidest thing an industry constantly under siege by neo-Prohibitionists could do.
Naturally, the WSWA gave Clyde May’s Whiskey a Gold Medal instead.