Monday, June 27, 2011


Elected officials, judges, teachers, doctors, lawyers.
Anyone, whose occupation is deemed to be a service rendered in the public interest, is considered to be the recipient of the public trust. Their conduct is extra-heavily and continuously scrutinized by the media. Fair enough. If you run for public office, you know this going in. It's a circumstance you accept, a risk you assume. It seems to me, however, that should a public figure commit a crime, the betrayal of public trust is invoked as a holy grail, spurring demands for double punishment. The outcry reminds me of spectators at a gladiator fight, flashing a thumbs-down verdict of no mercy. Throw compassion in the closet. This is not as it should be. It bothers me.

I am not advocating that the wrongdoer be given a pass. My proposal is to level the playing field of punishment. Let there be a comprehensive consideration of the offender's past conduct which has benefitted the public. Aberrations happen. The built-in stigma of public disgrace has already made its mark. Many years ago, I represented an attorney who had admitted to sufficient facts in a case involving his having pushed his wife during a heated argument. It was his wife who had called the police and pressed the charge. The attorney had been an elected town official. The Board of Bar Overseers held a hearing on the question of suspending his license. He and his wife had reconciled. She pleaded with the Board not to cut off his ability to financially support his family. I was interrupted, in my closing argument, by a Board member, who asked,"where is the punishment if we do not suspend?"
My response was to ask if he did not consider an attorney, handcuffed, in the prisoners' dock, in full view of the press and the public whom he had once represented, as constituting punishment per se. Deaf ears. Six month loss of license. This inherent double-layered punishment should not be casually ignored.

Let the punishment be in accordance with the actual harm suffered by the public.

Translate the offense into dollars and cents. Use that as the standard for determining the degree of punishment warranted for betraying the public trust. If the public has been financially defrauded, let the amount be the primary factor in promulgating a just sentence. The concept of a lenient sentence should not be dismissed  "just because".

With the passage of time, the public's wound will heal.
The brand of a scarlet letter shall adorn the public figure, forever.

This is not a violent crime. We're not dealing with a danger to the community.
Compassion is not a betrayal of the public trust.

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