Anyway, let's begin by quoting enough of the article to get the substance of the case:
In 2006 and 2007, [billionaire Jeffrey] Epstein—once a reliable companion of the well connected—faced extensive, detailed allegations that he paid multiple minors for sexual contact and for their services in procuring other minors. Most people, hammered with that kind of evidence, would spend the rest of their lives in prison. But Epstein could afford the lavish attention of a defense team staffed by legal luminaries such as Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr. Most of us hope an attorney will defend us competently at trial, but the superrich can afford to go on the offense. Epstein’s lawyers hounded the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, which was considering federal charges... Epstein’s team secured the deal of the millennium... Epstein agreed to plead guilty to state charges, register as a sex offender, and spend 13 months in county jail, during which time he was allowed to spend 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, out of the jail on “work release.” In exchange, the Southern District of Florida abandoned its criminal investigation of Epstein’s conduct, agreed not to prosecute him federally...Why did the Department of Justice cut such a deal? the article plaintively cries, before answering with the obvious "because he was very rich"1. There is an ideal that justice is the same for all. Indeed, this is one of the bedrocks of the liberal society, and a society that did not strive towards this ideal would be poorer. But we all know that in practice the ideal isn't true. If you're rich, you can afford better lawyers. In some senses, this is a condemnation of our legal system: a good legal system would be far more immune to quality-of-lawyer in cases. But we2 don't have a good legal system: we have a tolerable4 one. This is the point to recall Adam Smith's quote: Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.... Generally people quote that for the easy taxes bit, and sometimes for the justice part (when contrasting with, say, Russia or Nigeria or Venezuela) but people usually omit the "tolerable" from consideration; or if they include it, they read it as tolerable-or-above. But the thought I wish to think here is that AS meant "at least tolerable, and not too strict". Law is custom, and so an over-strict attempt to adhere rigidly to the written law, if that doesn't fit custom, will not succeed; or will strain society; whichever you prefer3. This is but one particular example; there are many others, which of course escape my mind at present.
Not strictly relevant here - I didn't even mention his name - but via the Economist I see Editor’s note: Alexander Acosta announced his resignation on July 12th 2019. See-also Aunty.
1. As a light side-issue - which is why it's down in the notes - I draw your attention to the article's "The personal attacks on the prosecution likely helped too: Federal prosecutors aren’t used to being on the defensive". I think this is true, but actually just points to a different problem on the other side: rephrased, it could be "FPs are used to being high-n-mighty and having people tremble before them".
2. Countries of the West: the US, the UK, Europe, other happy countries.
3. In a doomed attempt ot prevent people falsely accusing me of suggesting rich malefactors should get off scott-free, I point out that I didn't suggest that, and he didn't.
4. Arguably rather better than tolerable in some ways, in view of the next few sentences, but I couldn't think of a better word.
5. Update: actually, I can't be bothered.
* Ooh! Another good one: Mike Pompeo’s Faith-Based Attempt to Narrowly Redefine Human Rights by Masha Gessen in the New Yorker; or you may prefer his own words rather than MG's interpretation: Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press.
* Kepler was wot, you don’t say?
* An appeals court says Donald Trump may not block critics on Twitter
* The Broader Effects of Trade and Tech by Bryan Caplan
* Was Jeffrey Epstein’s plea deal fishy? - the Economist