Too bad about justice. It used to be just blind, but now it’s gone dumb as well.
I’m talking, of course, about the various and sundry (or is that tawdry?) trials, verdicts, and sentences of the past few weeks, from the Brawley mess to the baby-killer kids to the endless retrying of Crown Heights to Judge Duckman getting slam-dunked. It looked like courtrooms all over the state had been abducted by Cirque du Stupide to showcase vicious animal acts, jugglers, clowns, and tightrope walkers.
First and worst was the trial of the three stooges—Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason. They’re baaaaack. The only character missing from their show was the person who started the whole thing 10 years ago—Tawana Brawley. And since she’s the only player who seems to be gainfully employed (as a nurse), she’s probably the one defendant Steven Pagones should have sued if he wanted to get any dough for his pain and suffering. He asked for $395 million and was awarded $345,000, which he’ll probably never see. Alton Maddox is a suspended lawyer, C. Vernon Mason is a disbarred lawyer, and Rev. Al is, well, a reverend who runs the National Action Network. As huge and important as that sounds, Al says he owns nothing of real value. In fact, he admitted last year that he still owed $100,000 in back taxes.
While most of the characters’ fortunes and lives have taken nosedives over the past 10 years (Pagones spent $300,000 on legal fees, and one of his codefendants, Harry Crist, committed suicide), Brawley has thrived—the Nation of Islam picked up her tuition tab at Howard University.
And then there was the endless trial itself. Judge S. Barrett Hickman, who allowed the proceedings to spin increasingly out of control for eight long months, is perhaps the biggest clown since Lance Ito. You remember Ito—he presided over the endless murder trial of another guy with insufficient assets—O. J. Simpson.
For an even worse judicial miscarriage than Brawley, though, you had to look to the mess of a verdict for the baby-killers—Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson. She got 30 months and he got two years for killing their newborn. They say the first moments of a baby’s life are the most crucial. That’s why nurses and docs now soothe new arrivals with things like warm baths, massages, and dim lights. Grossberg and Peterson’s baby’s first moments weren’t quite so serene. His head was smashed by his loving mommy and daddy and he was flung into a dumpster. Less than three years for this act? If justice has gone dumb, it’s because of judges like Judge Henry duPont Ridgely, whose IQ must match his age.
In contrast, Charles Price, who yelled horrible things just before Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered, got more than 21 years from Judge David Trager. While Price didn’t murder Rosenbaum, he did incite others to do it. The difference in the harshness of these verdicts implies that taking the life of a child is not nearly as terrible as taking the life—or even encouraging others to take the life—of a grown man.
There is one judge who’s paying for everyone’s sins these days, however, and that’s Lorin Duckman. He’s the jurist who set low bail for stalker Benito Oliver after he beat his girlfriend, Galina Komar. Had Oliver simply continued to beat and stalk Komar, believe me, nobody would be looking for Duckman’s scalp.
That’s because judges are traditionally easy on stalkers, and unless the stalkee is as famous as Madonna or Steven Spielberg, justice goes deaf, really dumb, and incredibly blind in these cases. Duckman was simply doing what other judges—with the notable exception of Sol Wachtler, who managed to be both a judge and a stalker—do all the time: hoping the whole thing would go away. Sometimes it does. And sometimes the whole world is watching.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 11, 1998