Lady Justice

Norman Williams, center, with Mark Melahn, left, and Jesse Goodman, who worked on his case while in law school. Williams was sentenced to 25 years to life after his third-strike conviction, which was for stealing a car jack and tools from a tow truck. Through the efforts of Stanford's Criminal Defense Clinic, his sentence was reduced to 10 years. He had already served more than that so was freed. (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times)

Norman Williams, center, with Mark Melahn, left, and Jesse Goodman, who worked on his case while in law school. Williams was sentenced to 25 years to life after his third-strike conviction, which was for stealing a car jack and tools from a tow truck. Through the efforts of Stanford's Criminal Defense Clinic, his sentence was reduced to 10 years. He had already served more than that so was freed. (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times)

Statues of Lady Justice frequently portray her wearing a blindfold, signifying impartiality and objectivity. But careful readers of the Los Angeles Times on May 13 have good reason to believe that the Lady is peeking — at least in California — and it is entirely possible that her vision is distorted in favor of “white collar” criminals.

Voters in the “Golden State” adopted the “three strikes” initiative in 1994, requiring a sentence of 25 years to life for defendants convicted of two previous violent or serious crimes. An effort to amend it, which would have required the “third strike” to also qualify as violent or serious, was defeated in 2004 by a vote of 47.3% to 52.7%.

As a consequence, along with many thousands of admittedly deranged and dangerous people, others have received “three strikes” sentences for such infractions as shoplifting and abusing illegal drugs.

One such person, according to the Times, is free today, thanks to the efforts of a law clinic at Stanford University where students identify people convicted of what they view as relatively minor offenses resulting in disproportionately long imprisonments. Norman Williams was sentenced in 1997 to 25 years to life for stealing a car jack and tools from a tow truck. Williams, along with 11 siblings, was raised in a household with no father and an alcoholic mother, whose boyfriend reportedly raped him and beat him with electrical cords.

The Times also reported on May 13 that San Bernardino County is suing six former employees following “years of alleged crime, fraud, and sordid activities inside the Assessor’s office,” including the falsification of time cards and unauthorized political campaigning at taxpayer expense. The former Assessor, Bill Postmus, who resigned effective February 13 is in rehab for an addiction to methamphetamine, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, which also carried the story. Two of Postmus’ former employees in the Assessor’s office have been arrested, with allegations including perjury, preparing false evidence, destruction of public property, vandalism, and improperly reporting gifts from a well-known local developer who recently negotiated a $102 million settlement with the County.

How many times did these people come to “work” and engage only in political activities (oh, by the way, Postmus is the former head of the County Republican Party)? Does each day count as a separate event (strike)? Is stealing taxpayer money a “serious crime”? Does anyone think the people connected with this affair are going to be sentenced to 25 years to life?

ron-wolffThe juxtaposition of these two articles in the Los Angles Times tells us something about our state and our country — perhaps more than we want to know. And as long as we are juxtaposing things, I’ll close by quoting the official California website: “California’s future and its promise are nothing less than the future and promise of America. It has a California context, to be sure, but it is nothing separate from the dreams and hopes and aspirations of all the American people in their collective struggle to create a decent, fair, and secure republic.”

Ron Wolff

Ronald Wolff publishes the blog Musings from Claremont, where this article first appear. Republished with permission.

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