News Roundup

No, the federal government shutdown hasn’t reached the School of Government — I’m just a little slow with my post today due to some teaching and other obligations.

Easily the most unusual story of the week was this one from San Diego, California: a defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to 53 years in prison, then was married “by the same judge who had sentenced him . . . just a few minutes earlier. And he got a slice of cake to eat in the courtroom too, baked by the judge herself.” Look, it’s good when people who love one another get married, and even defendants who are convicted of murder should be allowed to wed. But it strikes me as a little unseemly to conduct a wedding ceremony, complete with cake, for a defendant right after he has been sentenced for a homicide, as the victim’s family is being escorted out of the courtroom. There’s a time and a place for everything.

In other news:

1. “Judicial executioners.” Speaking of judges and their jobs, federal district judge Richard Kopf writes here on his blog that federal trial judges are “judicial executioner[s] . . . who consciously do[] great harm to other human beings by faithfully executing the extraordinarily harsh national criminal laws.” That may be a bit of hyperbole, but one of Kopf’s points is that judges bear a heavy burden when sentencing people — even clearly guilty people — to long prison terms. I think he’s right about that. Certainly, many judges I know view criminal sentencing as the worst part of the job. Food for thought for aspiring judges.

2. The Times takes on lifers. The New York Times editorializes here against the increasing prevalence of life sentences, arguing that “the number of people in prison for life has more than quadrupled since 1984 and continues to grow at a startling pace. . . . [O]ne in nine inmates, about 160,000 people, is serving a life sentence. Nearly one-third of these prisoners are serving life without parole. Many of these lifers were convicted of nonviolent crimes or of crimes that occurred before they turned 18.” In the view of the Times, many of these sentences do nothing to improve public safety, and should be revisited. A contrary view would be that long sentences have had something to do with the long decline in crime rates we have experienced over the past several decades.

3. First UNC sports indictment served. Jennifer Wiley Thompson, a former tutor at UNC Chapel Hill, has been indicted for violations of the state’s athlete-agent law. The law generally forbids agents from making gifts to athletes, the idea being that such gifts are really inducements for the athlete to sign with a specific agent. The Thompson indictment alleges that she served as a liaison between an agent and a football player, ferrying cash payments and other benefits from the former to the latter. Four more indictments remain sealed in connection with UNC’s athletic and academic scandals. The News and Observer has the details here.

4. Durham district attorney at the end of the road? Finally, the court of appeals affirmed the removal of Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline. In re Cline is available here. In a nutshell, the court ruled that several of Cline’s statements regarding Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson were made with “actual malice” and supported removal, and that the removal proceeding itself was handled correctly. The opinion was unanimous, making supreme court review — assuming that that it is even possible — unlikely. Former Superior Court Judge Leon Stanback serves as the interim district attorney, but has apparently let it be known that he will not run for the job next year. As a Durham resident myself, I’m interested in seeing who does decide to run.

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