Ethics Dunce: Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky

Let’s see if this sentence generates a fraction of the national attention that the so-called “affluenza” sentence did. For this is much, much worse.

Star Stanford swimmer and Olympic swimming team candidate Brock Turner was arrested in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2015  when two Stanford graduate students  saw him on the ground, thrusting his hips atop an unconscious, partially clothed woman. They called police; Turner ran, and police chased him down Turner. In trial, Turner claimed that the woman had consented, though police found her unconscious.

The jury didn’t believe him, and convicted Turner of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. The usual sentence for sexual assault is six years in state prison. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, however,  sentenced Turner to six months in county jail and three years’ probation. Turner could get out of prison after just three months.

For rape.

I do not find the Judge’s reasoning persuasive. His arguments were.. Continue reading

Our Unaccountable, Irresponsible, Incompetent, Untrustworthy News Media, Ethan Couch Division.

CNN's credibility

CNN’s credibility

(Yes, apparently this is going to be Blank Graphic Saturday.)

I just watched a CNN report that stated, “Ethan Couch’s attorney convinced the judge that the teen suffered from “‘Afflienza”‘

This is 100% false. The judge never said a word about “affluenza” in her order, nor did her words to Couch suggest that she agreed with the lawyer’s desperate “affluenza” theory, conveyed by a paid expert.  (There is no such malady as “affluenza.”)

This is not in dispute: the judge did NOT accept this theory, and the fact that she gave the teen probation with a heavy load of conditions—another fact left out of the CNN report on Couch’s disappearance—does not suggest that she did. Thus CNN is spreading a narrative rather than conveying truth, in the process ignoring easily available evidence (the court transcript) that has not changed in two years and intentionally misleading its audience.

A news organization that allows this to happen cannot and must not be trusted.

About anything


Ethics Observations On My 2013 Ethics Observations On The “Affluenza” Sentence, Now That The Teen Sociopath Is On The Lam

Ethan Couch

Ethan Couch

You may recall the so-called “Affluenza” case of 2013, which I wrote about here.

Ethan Couch a Texas teenager from a rich family, killed four people in a drunken-driving crash (he also had no license) and crippled a friend riding with him. Instead of jail time, the 16-year-old was given probation mandating expensive counseling and treatment by a judge who found herself vilified far and wide. Now this, from his lawyers, Reagan Wynn and Scott Brown:

“We have recently learned that, for the last several days, the juvenile probation officer has been unable to make contact with Ethan or his mother with whom he has been residing.”

A video surfaced showing Couch playing beer pong, which is a violation of probation that could send him to prison. The assumption is that he had fled to avoid that result, and may have even left the country. The Washington Post reports that The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service have joined the search for Couch, who is now considered a fugitive.

So, I am asked, how do the Ethics Alarms observations on the original sentence stand now, since it is clear that the judge’s attempt to reform Ethan without locking him up has failed?

The answer is, having read what I wrote initially again, that I wouldn’t retract a word.

Here’s what I wrote, and my comments now: Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Latrez Cummings Sentence

"I understand, son. We've all been at that awkward, "just want to beat the old white guy to death" age...."

“I understand, son. We’ve all been at that awkward, “just want to beat the old white guy to death” age….”

Detroit Third Judicial Circuit Judge James Callahan sentenced 19-year-old gang member Latrez Cummings to six months in jail for his participation in the mob beating of Steve Utash, a 54-year-old white man who jumped out of his car to assist a 10-year-old African-American boy after his pick-up truck hit the child. Cummings and at least 20 others on the scene attacked Utash and beat him severely, leaving him with permanent brain damage.

Judge Callahan told Cummings that the lack of a father was what led him to his current plight. “That’s all you have needed in your life, a father, someone to discipline you, someone to beat the hell out of you when you made a mistake,” Callahan lectured Cummings. “Without the guidance of a father, being 19 years of age, I can understand how some of these problems existed in the past.” The judge added that Cummings has suffered without “somebody to beat the hell out of you when you made a mistake.”  With the further rationalization, “We’ve all been 19 years of age, ” Callahan handed down the six month sentence, to be followed by probation.

The prosecutor, to her credit, went nuts. Said Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey: Continue reading

The Ethan Crouch Case’s D.A., Trying To Right An Arguable Wrong With Six More

Listen to your mother, Joe.

Listen to your mother, Joe.

The infamous vehicular homicide case that generated the “Affluenza Defense” is well on its way to becoming an ethics train wreck.

The news media keeps doing its part: today CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield, whom I can no longer recall why I ever thought she was more than an over-opinionated hack (I think it was her glasses) said again today that Judge Jean Boyd “bought” 16-year-old scofflaw Ethan Crouch’s defense that he wasn’t responsible for his actions (that ended up leading to the death of four and critical injuries to two of his friends) because he had been spoiled by an affluent upbringing. As I already pointed out, there is no evidence that Judge Boyd agreed with that dubious argument, and solid evidence that she did not. Never mind. Ashleigh and the rest of her incompetent colleagues will continue to try to mislead the public regarding this just as they regularly do on nearly every other news story.

The more surprising development was the sudden participation of the Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, he whose efforts to jail young Couch were foiled by Boyd’s expansive judicial compassion toward a minor, in the ethics follies. He’s attempting another “bite of the apple, ” as judges say, by asking Boyd to lock up  Ethan  on two counts of intoxication assault that he argues are still pending before her court. Shannon explained:

“During his recent trial, the 16-year-old admitted his guilt in four cases of intoxication manslaughter and two cases of intoxication assault. There has been no verdict formally entered in the two intoxication assault cases. Every case deserves a verdict.”

Shannon’s renewed plea focuses on the two teens riding in the back of Couch’s Ford F-350 pickup (voluntarily riding there, knowing the driver was unlicensed and drunk as a skunk) who suffered life-altering injuries. One of them, Sergio Molina, is paralyzed and can communicate only by blinking. It is 1) disingenuous 2) unprofessional  3) unfair 4) futile, and he knows it, 5) irresponsible, and 6) probably unconstitutional.

All of which means his gambit is 7) unethical. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Observations On The “Affluenza” Sentence”


I don't think this is the same "Theodoric of York" who authored this excellent "Comment of the Day" least I hope it isn't.

I don’t think this is the same “Theodoric of York” who authored this excellent “Comment of the Day”…at least I hope it isn’t.

The heat/ light ratio in the comments to the post about the controversial sentencing of a 16-year-old scofflaw in Texas has been depressing, but among the rational, measured, well-considered and thought-provoking responses by those who actually read the post, this one, by new commenter Theodoric of York,  is a winner. His politeness is especially appreciated among all the posts calling me names that would shock my mother. I hope he comes again, and often.

I’ll have some further comments after he’s had his say. Meanwhile, here is Theodoric of York’s Comment or the Day on the post Ethics Observations on the “Affluenza” Sentence.

Disclaimer the first: I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. Disclaimer the second: I have no knowledge of Texas law regarding juvenile justice, nor do I have any knowledge of Texas state law regarding negligent vehicular homicide, nor do I have any real knowledge of that state’s laws regarding DUI, homicide, manslaughter or murder. And yes, I know the difference between murder and negligent vehicular homicide, and I am also aware that young Mr. Couch is a minor. Disclaimer the third: I have not read Judge Boyd’s actual ruling, nor have I seen actual video of her sentencing. If someone could provide a link to that (if a link exists), it would be appreciated. That being said: Continue reading

Perspective: The Trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb (1924), Clarence Darrow’s Closing Argument, And Judge Caverly’s Sentence

Darrow and his clients

Darrow and his clients

I just commented, on the controversial post here about Judge Boyd and the media frenzy regarding the “affluenza” defense offered by Ethan Couch’s lawyers, that the fact that so many of the comments, many of them angry, focused on the fact that a spoiled, rich kid got a break, or, as they used to say in the old days, mercy, that I began thinking about the famous Leopold and Loeb murder trial.   In 2011, I  posted a shortened version of Clarence Darrow’s famous closing argument in that trial, one of my favorite of all courtroom speeches, and it seems appropriate to do so again. It is far from a perfect parallel, but any excuse to revisit Darrow at his best is a good one.

 Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were, like Ethan Couch, young, rich and spoiled; they also were Jewish and gay. Their crime was  far worse than Crouch’s: they planned and executed the murder of a child just for the fun or it, and to show that they could outsmart authorities. (Ironically, they were arrested almost immediately). The two teenagers were charged with the premeditated murder of fourteen year-old Bobby Franks. Both defendants were brilliant students (Leopold, the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Chicago; Loeb, the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan),  and the sons of wealthy and successful Chicago businessmen. Neither showed any remorse for their terrible crime. There is no question that had they been poor, they would have been sentenced to die, and would have been hanged. Their parents, however, could afford to hire Clarence Darrow, a foe of capital punishment who had never had a single one of his often guilty clients executed. They got their money’s worth.

His summation on August 22, 1924, remains perhaps the most persuasive and eloquent argument against capital punishment ever made in a court or anywhere else.  It is also an argument for mercy, and especially mercy for the young. The plea worked: Judge John L. Caverly spared Leopold and Loeb, and he sentenced them to life imprisonment without parole—under the circumstances and in those days of rough justice, a gift. In his sentencing statement, which is posted here after Darrow’s summation, Caverly did not indicate that he was swayed by Darrow’s eloquence or reasoning. Caverly based his sentence on the ages of the defendants. Darrow was counting on this particular vulnerability of Caverly, who had helped establish juvenile justice courts in Chicago. Later, Nathan Leopold suggested that he and Dickie Loeb might have gotten the same result if they had simply submitted their birth certificates into evidence.

I doubt that he would have bet his life on it. The pressure on Caverly to hang these two despicable sociopaths was overwhelming, and having Clarence Darrow put his decision in such heroic terms had to steel his nerve, if it needed steeling. Still, as with Judge Boyd in the Couch case, there is no way to be sure that he would not have spared Leopold and Loeb anyway. Also as in Ethan Couch’s case, critics said this was disparate justice, bought and paid for.

This is a condensed version of Darrow’s closing,  edited for The Essential Words and Writings of Clarence Darrow, (2007),  that I co-edited with historian Ed Larson.  Here is one of the great orators of the 20th Century, one of the great progressive thinkers in our history, and the greatest trial lawyer who ever lived, arguing for the life of two murderers and for the soul of our civilization. I do not share Darrow’s absolute rejection of the death penalty, but I always do for a few hours, at least, after reading this. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The “Affluenza” Sentence (And None Of Them Involve Criticizing The Judge)

Judge Boyd, being judged. (The earlier photo posted was NOT Judge Boyd. I apologize to the judge, readers, and whoever's photo that was.)

Judge Boyd, being judged. (The earlier photo posted was NOT Judge Boyd. I apologize to the judge, readers, and whoever’s photo that was, for the error)

The newsmedia and blogosphere are going bonkers over the sentence given to Ethan Couch, the 16-year-old Texan who pleaded guilty last week to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. He had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit (Couch had stolen beer from a Walmart), plus traces of Valium in his system, when he lost control of  the Ford F-350 pick-up he was driving (over the speed limit) and slammed into four people trying to fix a disabled car on the shoulder. They were killed; two of his seven passengers were critically injured. Prosecutors proposed 20 years in jail as the proper punishment for Couch, but his attorneys tried a novel defense: they had experts testify that their client suffered from “affluenza,” a malady caused by his rich, amoral, neglectful parents, who taught him (the theory goes) that there are no consequences for anything, if one has enough money.

Rejecting the prosecution’s argument, State District Judge Jean Boyd, presiding over the Fort Worth Juvenile Court, shocked everyone by sentencing Couch to only 10 years of probation—no prison time at all. The gist of the media outrage: once again, the life philosophy of Couch’s sociopathic parents is validated. The rich get away with everything: a poor, minority defendant who engaged in the same conduct would have been imprisoned. This is the injustice of the criminal law system in America.

Maybe. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I think the judge, despite what we are hearing from the media, may have done her job well.

Continue reading