Friday, September 16, 2005

When judges should be judged

Surely this couldn't happen in my America.

Yet here it was, right in front of me, an Associated Press article about 73 year old Merlene Maten, a diabetic Grandmother, deaconess of her church, no criminal record, was being held on $50,000 bail for alleged looting in New Orleans.

Her alleged take? $63.50 of food.

Let me repeat that: $63.50. And she's being held on 50 THOUSAND dollars bail...

If you read the article, all you see is a discussion of the fact that eyewitnesses say she wasn't even at the store where the looting took place, although police say she was.

But I say - who cares? Let's assume for the moment that she IS guilty of taking $63.50 worth of food during the hurricane aftermath. Does anyone believe that $50,000 bail is appropriate?

What insane people are in power here? The owners of the nursing home in New Orleans who were just charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide were held on (bet you can guess) $50,000 bail. So $63.50 worth of food is an equivalent crime to 34 homicides? As far as the presiding judge was concerned, the answer is apparently Yes. The stress of the job has obviously gotten to him.

But wait, it gets better.

Not only was she arrested and charged with a crime that is questionable considering her physical condition and eyewitness reports claiming she was not there, but the official police report doesn't even list what she supposedly stole - it just gives a value of $63.50. It does however correctly state her age and health - 73, with diabetes.

"This is a mix up," you say, "and will be sorted out quickly by reasonable minds..."

Hah, wrong you are! Not only has she been held for two weeks, but she has even been moved from the local parish jail to a state prison more than an hour away - even though everyone from the store owner herself to the AARP and the FEMA legal assistance office have protested her arrest.

And what about our champion of justice, the judge who set her bail? What has he had to say during her two weeks of trauma? According to the AP,
...the judge who set $50,000 bail by phone — 100 times the maximum $500 fine under state law for minor thefts — has not returned a week's worth of calls...
People should be responsible for their actions. And if Mrs. Maten is in fact found guilty of a crime, then she will obviously pay. But in my America, I thought people were still innocent until proven guilty. And that punishments, as well as bail, were supposed to fit the crime or the flight risk. Not so in this case.

The only criminal act to have truly taken place here is the behavior of the judge. Apparently when you add "black woman" + "looter" + "$63.50", even if you subtract "73 years old" and "church deaconess" you arrive at a sum of $50,000 for bail.

By any calculation, that is very funny math and should demand that one more calculation be made:

Judge + blatant incompetence and misuse of power = removal.

Anything less is an insult to all of us.



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