Chaste and Chasten

So you want to stand before a court and proclaim your righteous indignation in stentorian tones about the evils of drugs?  Make sure the joint doesn’t accidentally fall out of your pocket.  Or perhaps you want to sit high on a bench in judgment of miscreants who endanger others by failing to strictly adhere to the requirements of controlling a hurtling 2000 pound missile?  Then it would help if your own license hadn’t been suspended for 15 years.

This would be a schadenfreude opportunity, but for the fact that to indulge in such nasty business is to demean ourselves.

From the  New Orleans Times-Picayune comes the story of assistant city attorney Jason Cantrell,

Jason Cantrell, an assistant city attorney, was issued a summons under a city policy for low-level marijuana cases after a joint fell out of his pocket in magistrate court in front of NOPD officers. Cantrell resigned his city post late Monday, according to his wife’s statement.

To add insult to injury, his wife, LaToya, is running for city counsel.

“I absolutely do not condone his actions,” wrote LaToya Cantrell, who is a well-known civic activist in Broadmoor making her first run for public office.

“I love my husband unconditionally and am very concerned for his health and well-being, and for that of our family,” Cantrell said. “I hope that this incident will encourage Jason to seek the professional help he needs and ask that the public respect our privacy in this very personal family matter.”

She’s shocked, SHOCKED!  Because what are the chances these ambitious public-spirited individuals smoked an occasional joint together after a hard day of serving the public?

Meanwhile, in LaFollette, Tennessee, via :
A LaFollette traffic court judge was arrested last week after officers found him driving on a suspended license.

Wes Hatmaker, of Knoxville, was pulled over on Sept. 26 after a Jacksboro police officer saw him cross the center line on Main Street.

Hatmaker, a well-known Jacksboro attorney and LaFollette city traffic offense judge, told the officer he did not have his license because it was in his other wallet.

After running Hatmaker through a license database, the officer found Hatmaker’s license had been suspended more than 15 years prior, in May 1998.

Perhaps he was too busy handing out fines and minor jail sentences to have time to notice that he hadn’t received a license renewal since the late 90s?

It’s easy to enjoy and appreciate the unavoidable irony that goes along with people who take upon themselves the authority to judge others.  It’s even sweeter when that irony strikes at the heart of what they do, revealing them as utter and inexcusable hypocrites.  So now that we’ve basked in the weakness of schadenfreude, let’s step away from the pleasure and consider its larger lesson.

Both Hatmaker and Cantrell are human beings, flawed and, whether they want to admit it about themselves or not, victims of their own hubris.  Perhaps both performed their official functions well, and both would be best characterized as the sort of prosecutor and judge we would hope to hold their positions.  Maybe these were both good guys.  Let’s assume they were.

By separating what they did wrong from what they did professionally, we can accept that they made foolish mistakes, perhaps got themselves caught in fairly ordinary jams which could easily be shrugged off.  But their positions can’t be ignored.

I’ve known some former prosecutors who smoked dope.  They did so before they put on suits, and they continued to do so afterward. And they drank. Heavily. Then drove.  And I’ve known some judges who drive fast. Some very fast. And crazy. It’s not that they’re bad prosecutors or judges, but are they pure? Not quite.  Or more precisely, not even close.  And they drank too. Heavily, etc.

In fact, one would be very hard pressed to find anyone who came of age during the 1960s or 70s who didn’t smoke marijuana.  The president did. Taking it a step farther, anyone who didn’t might well be considered rather peculiar, given the times. 

What makes these stories significant is that the people who assume the mantle of judgment over others, whether by indictment or imposition of sanction, have managed to forget their own humanity and the humanity of their dear friends and loved ones.  There is no one so pure and chaste in any courtroom, from federal to justice court, who hasn’t done something for which they could have ended up in the defendant’s chair.  No one.

That doesn’t mean that anyone has committed any particularly heinous crime. We don’t murder people. We don’t rape. We don’t molest children.  But we also haven’t been paragons of virtue in every aspect of our lives.  We do wrong, and breath a sigh of relief that no one found out. 

We go on to be lawyers, prosecutors, judges, even presidents, while some other poor schmuck ends up being sentenced for exactly the same conduct.  There, but for the grace of God…

And as we exercise the discretion of our positions and decide whether to indict and punish others, we imagine ourselves to be above their conduct, better than others.  We wrap ourselves in a fantasy of righteousness so we can lecture and condemn the very conduct we got away with.

Regardless of your feelings about religion, Micah 6.8 is worth remembering.

Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God.

Cantrell and Hatmaker fell from grace. They once pretended they were chaste, and because of that are now chastened.  Are you, judge, really any better?  Are you, prosecutor, so pure?  What will you ask of us should you fall from grace one day.  It can happen. If your day comes, will you pray that we are more understanding than you ever were?

9 comments on “Chaste and Chasten

  1. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    Hypocrisy is really one of my favorite topics, or least favorite, depending on how you look at it. Sanctimonious hypocrites — you know, the kind that try to legislate against homosexuals and then get caught raw-doggin’ it through a glory hole in a public restroom — are a true blight on the human race . . .

    Though I do understand that, yes, at times, everyone is hypocritical — but if you can recognize that you have failings, periodically reflect on your own hypocrisy, and try to do better the next time, you’re what I call a “hip hypocrite” — being hip and all to your own hypocrisy — and will do just fine with me. But if you believe your own hype, then you’re not my type . . .

    And those dudes (and prolly the wife too) you’re outing in this post, I’m gonna speculate that they’re full-on in denial sanctimonious hypocrites of the worst sort . . .

  2. j a higginbotham

    “There, but for the grace of God…”

    “God” in this case being the New Orleans political system? At the moment Mr Cantrell is merely suspended without pay.

  3. Dismoun

    I know several police officers who have used, and a small few who still use marihuana. I know a judge, two crown prosecutors and several defense lawyers who speed. Every cop I know (including myself) speeds at some time or other.

    I’m not entirely sure how to deal with the hypocrisy. On the one hand, I am VERY uncomfortable handing out traffic citations for speeding, when I can call to mind occasions when I’ve gone the very same speed I’m citing. I’ve noticed that I speed less and less every year since I got into this line of work.

    On the other hand, I have to ask myself: “Do I want to live in a society where the police get to decide which laws to enforce?” I believe in the democratic process, despite its flaws, and I don’t think it is my job to decide which of parliament’s laws I should be enforcing, and which I should be ignoring.

    Participants in the justice system are people too, and when they break the law, it is a sign that the law should be evaulated for fitness, just as it is when anyone else does it. That laws (speed, drugs) that almost no-one thinks are reasonable remain on the books is the major problem here.

    On the other hand, preachers and other moral characters who condemn homosexuality as evil and abomination, while hiring sexy young men to feed them crystal meth and massages, deserve what they get.

  4. SHG

    Do we want the laws enforced only to the extent that the cop (or prosecutor or judge) doesn’t violate the law himself?  I’m not so sure that’s true. I would go so far as to say it’s not necessarily hypocritical to do one’s job even if one is less than pure. But it is a damn good reason to reduce the rhetoric, the harshness and inflexibility. The perps broke the law, but they’re no worse a human being than the cop who arrested them or the judge who imposes sentence on them. That can’t be forgotten.

  5. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    Which may beg an answer to another question:

    Was Martin Luther King, Jr. right or wrong when he famously stated, “There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all… One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly…I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.”?? . . .

  6. ShelbyC

    Aren’t cops who use marijuana, and possess guns, guilty of a serious federal felony, that normal people go away for years for?

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