Friday, January 14, 2011

When it comes to public figures, is 2011 the 'Year of No Excuses?'

Two weeks into the new year, it appears 2011 is shaping up to be the "Year of No Excuses," where titles like "state senator," "congressman's wife" and "gubernatorial appointee" no longer buy anyone a "get out of jail free card."

Last week, former state senator Dianne Wilkerson was sentenced to 3 and 1/2 years in a federal prison for taking bribes. The U.S. District judge who handed down the sentence said he believed the law had been too lenient toward Massachusetts politicians who engage in political corruption. And then Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday cleaned house at the state parole board, accepting the resignations of much of the Parole Board, firing certain parole employees and reprimanding and suspending others after a report showed major lapses in procedure and judgment in the release of a convicted con who killed a Woburn police officer the day after Christmas.

And now a federal judge has sentenced Patrice Tierney, wife of Congressman John Tierney, to 30 days in prison for aiding and abetting the filing of false tax returns for her brother. Even prosecutors — who are supposed to be working on behalf of the government — argued that Tierney should be let off with house arrest saying the embarrassment she faced for her crime was punishment enough. But the judge vehemently disagreed, saying he could not "excuse a violation of the law of this severity" and that "there must be an actual sanction." Read the full story here.

It seems those who make our laws and enforce them have come to the place where the average citizen has been for quite a while now — fed up with politicians and public figures who act as though they are above the law, who make excuses and pleas for special treatment when it comes time for justice to be meted out. This is a good thing, and it's the only way to restore public confidence in the justice system and in public figures themselves.

It looks like the old "do you know who I am?" trick doesn't necessarily work anymore. In fact, it might land you in hotter water. Laws should be enforced equally, according to what you did and not who you are. As Judge Young said about Patrice Tierney in court yesterday, when it comes to public figures who break the law, they "should get the same sentence anyone else would get."

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