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Courts need to summon common sense
Scripps Howard News Service


June 19, 2007

WASHINGTON -- A young man of 17 engages in a consensual Clintonesque sexual activity at a party with a 15-year-old girl and is put away for 10 years and must register as a pervert.

A Washington, D.C., administrative judge sues a cleaning establishment for $54 million for a missing pair of pants and actually gets his case heard.

A prosecutor and judge team up to throw the book at a former vice presidential aide in a blatant political show of force over something that occurs almost daily in this city.

How much more evidence is needed to prove that the American judicial system is in sad need of a transfusion of common sense? Actually, there are plenty more examples ranging from gross incompetence to malicious disregard for justice in the daily operation of the nation's courts at all levels.

The most disturbing of these travesties has been the celebrated Duke University lacrosse case that ultimately resulted in the destroyed legal career of the imprudent prosecutor, Michael Nifong, who brought unimaginable pain to innocent young men and their families.

In Georgia young Genarlow Wilson has already served 28 months of his 10-year sentence for receiving the oral favors of a girl two years his junior at a high school party. Once a gifted student and athlete with a future, he now faces years of uncertainty and embarrassment as a registered sex offender. His plight has been appealed by a host of notables, including former President Carter. The response by Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker was astounding.

Granting that the sentence was bit harsh, Baker still argued before the Georgia Supreme Court that to release Wilson could well lead to appeals by hundreds of jailed child molesters. What an absolute load of nonsense. As one of Wilson's defenders noted, if there are a huge number incarcerated whose cases are similar to Wilson's, they also should be released.

Now take the case of the missing pants that has made the American system of justice a laughing stock the world over.

Roy Pearson, an unemployed lawyer for several years before winning appointment here as an administrative law judge, took his suits to a cleaning establishment owned by a Korean couple, refugees who came to America and made good. When one of the suits came up missing its pants, Wilson, who has a record of litigious complaint, wanted compensation for this mistake, but not just the amount for a new suit. He asked the court to award him millions upon millions of dollars to cover not only the cost of replacing the trousers, but the emotional strain of losing them. He reportedly turned down every effort to settle even for as much as $12,000.

Meanwhile, the disillusioned Korean couple is nearly broke after spending thousands on defense and is talking of heading back to Korea.

The sad thing here is that this case wasn't tossed out instantly as preposterously frivolous no matter how many stupid legal precedents Pearson threatened to cite. Certainly TV's Judge Judy would have make mincemeat of this despicable claimant's arguments. He is up for reappointment, which obviously shouldn't take place, and to make matters more insulting has asked lawyer's fees for representing himself. Serious questions should be asked about the judge who let this come to trial.

The U.S. district judge in the matter of Scooter Libby, along with the special counsel who initiated what has become a serious political injustice, has decided that Libby should be made the poster boy for white-collar crime. He has refused to grant Libby, whom he is treating like public enemy number one, the right to stay out of jail while his lawyers appeal a far too harsh sentence of 30 months for his conviction in the Valerie Plame outing case. Never mind that his was a victimless crime that could be prosecuted hundreds of times a year in this town. And so far the White House has left the former top aide to Vice President Cheney slowly twisting in the wind over whether to grant him a pardon.

All three cases represent the harsh reality of ever finding oneself caught up in a justice system where travesty is too often a byword. If that occurs, run to the library and ask for Franz Kafka's "The Castle." It might help you understand where you are.


Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.
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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska