“I am deeply ashamed to be standing here,” former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert told a judge yesterday at his sentencing hearing. “I know why I am here … I mistreated some of the athletes that I coached.”
Wait…what? That’s not why Hastert was in court at all. He was before a judge for one reason: he violated banking laws and lied to the F.B.I.. The fact that he was a sexual predator and molested members of the wrestling team he coached many years ago is not the reason he was in court. It couldn’t be. The statute of limitations on all of those crimes, horrible crimes all, had expired. Hastert couldn’t be charged, tried or convicted of any of them.
I don’t understand why this hasn’t been the focus of the coverage of Hastert’s ordeal yesterday. Why did the judge think it was appropriate to “angrily” lecture him about his crimes that in the eyes of the law he must be considered innocent of by the legal system, because he cannot be found guilty of these crimes any more?
“‘If Denny Hastert could do it, anyone could do it,'” U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin said. “Nothing is more stunning than to have the words ‘serial child molester’ and ‘speaker of the House’ in the same sentence.” Well, that’s very interesting, Judge. If the late Ted Kennedy had been before you to be sentenced for, say, just a wild hypothetical, a drunk driving charge, would you lecture him about letting Mary Jo Kopechne drown in his car?
I may have missed it, but when O.J. Simpson was sentenced for burglary, I don’t recall the judge asking him to confess to murdering Nicole and Ron…did that happen?
Earlier this month, the judge and prosecutors allowed the trial to become a proxy trial for a crime that wasn’t on the docket, with prosecutors hammering at graphic details about the sex-abuse, describing how Hastert would sit in a recliner in the locker room with a direct view of the showers. The victims, prosecutors said, were boys between 14 and 17. Hastert was in his 20s and 30s. This is relevant to the charges against Hastert how, exactly? Answer: They aren’t.
I assume that defense attorneys and Hastert himself decided that to take this beating was the best strategy to try to get a lighter sentence, and I agree with them, but it was unethical and a breach of legal process to force him into this position.
I hadn’t paid much attention to the Hastert saga from an ethics point of view except for a post last year about how there was little distinction between what was called his “extortion” by his former victims and a leagl settlement deal. Then I read some Facebook posts from friends—Republican-hating friends, because his political affiliation adds jsut a bit to the venom–saying that Hastert’s 15 month sentence was a “slap on the wrist.” It isn’t a slap on the wrist at all. The sentence was unusually harsh. Federal guidelines recommended probation to six months incarceration for violations of the banking laws Hastert broke while trying to hide his payments to his victims. He wasn’t being sentences for a sex crime. Except that he was.
He was to the absurd extent that he was ordered to undergo sex-offender treatment, spend two years on supervised release from prison and pay a $250,000 fine to a crime victims’ fund. These are punishments related to crimes Hastert can’t be charged with, tried for, or sentenced for. When did the U.S. justice system become an open inquiry into every wrong a defendant ever engaged in, and an inquisition that requires him or her to come clean and accept official condemnation for acts only tangentially related to the charges?
I must have missed that, too. Everybody else sure seems to be comfortable with it though.
There is nothing wrong with every citizen regarding Hastert as a child molester, just as there is nothing unfair about anyone who thinks of Bill Clinton as serial sexual harasser, Ted Kennedy as rich guy who bought his way out of a manslaughter charge, and O.J. Simpson as a double-murderer. Those are accurate assessments based of known facts, and we don’t have to play stupid and gullible just because the law can’t do anything about these crimes. Hastert is a serial child molester, apparently long retired. The law, however, for excellent reasons, says he can’t be tried for that. Why was he?
More important, why do we accept it? A legal system that can just choose to ignore laws, rules and principles because it really dislikes someone or what they did isn’t a legal system that the public can trust. More important still, a public that allows its legal system to blatantly violate its own principles out of emotion and anger is foolishly setting up the means of its own demise.