Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sex in the City Room

The single editorial in today's Pensacola Newsletter is most peculiar. The paper takes after a local, justifiably respected judge for passing "sentence on a 28-year-old woman who not only had sex with a 16-year-old male who worked for her, but took him to Texas, along with her two young children."

Judge Ron Swanson, claims the editorial, sentenced the defendant to "one year" in prison. (Actually, it was three years in prison, with two of them suspended pending probation.) The newspaper finds that outrageous:
A one-year prison sentence shows how little the court values a male in sexual assault cases such as this.

Unfortunately, stereotypes in sexual assault cases still exist and are still bought hook, line and sinker by judges.

Justice in Santa Rosa no longer is blind. It's seeing double, as in double standard.
Now, we have no special knowledge about this case, the evidence presented at this trial, or whatever detailed facts about the defendant or the crime may have been presented at the sentencing hearing. We seriously doubt the newspaper has much first-hand knowledge of the facts, either, since -- as is apparent here -- the PNJ didn't assign a reporter to attend the sentencing hearing, but just had someone phone in the results.

What we do know is that every case in every courtroom has a lot of them -- facts, that is -- and from a single sentence in a single case handed down by a single judge no one can rationally conclude an entire county's judicial system "no longer is blind." That's just plain nuts.

Even if, as the editorial recites, the defense attorney argued "the predator ... in this case... wasn't my client'' that is not a fact; it is merely one lawyer's argument to the court. There's no suggestion in the editorial that the judge bought it. Indeed, both the editorial and that curiously uninformative sentencing news item from January 8 -- is conspicuously silent on what the judge, himself, had to say.

If the outcome in this one case, as the PNJ would have it, defines the quality of justice in Santa Rosa County, what would the newspaper make of any case in Escambia County -- as we can be sure there are -- where a judge may have out-right dismissed a sex crime charge, or a jury acquitted the defendant, or the sentencing decision imposed probation rather than jail time, just as in the Santa Rosa case?

No one is more sympathetic than we are to the precipitous decline in the Pensacola News Journal's news-gathering abilities. From the looks of what has been landing in our flower bed every morning of late, there's hardly anyone left in the city news room.

But that is no excuse for editorially tarring an entire county's judicial system based on the outcome of a sentencing hearing in a single case which the newspaper itself couldn't or wouldn't report in any detail.

1 comment:

BeachLover said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your take on this, and was glad to learn someone else considered this editorial comment to be very strange. Could there be some personal or family involvement in this case, or some similar situation? Sure makes one wonder what's really going on here -- but of course we'll never know.