Wednesday, July 29, 1998

Sentence delay based
on ridiculous rationale

APPARENTLY awed by what a criminal defense lawyer describes as his client's "absolutely precious" time bonding with his newborn son, Circuit Judge Sandra Simms has postponed a man's prison sentence until November. The delayed punishment is a strange abuse of her discretion, but such an aberration should not prompt legislators to reduce judges' options. Most wouldn't even consider emulating Simms' outrageous departure from sentencing practices.

The incarceration delay was afforded to Jonnaven Monalim, who was convicted July 17 of assault for punching and breaking the jaw of a 17-year-old boy at Makaha Beach after a football game a year ago. At the time of the incident, Monalim, a professional boxer, was on probation for felony convictions stemming from a 1989 brawl in Waianae. His history also includes reckless driving and harassment incidents involving his girlfriend. According to city Deputy Prosecutor Renee Sonobe Hong, police reports describe Monalim as a danger to the community and to his own family.

Judge Simms sentenced Monalim to as much as 10 years in prison. He must serve at least six months behind bars because he was on probation at the time of the offense. From that point, however, the criminal justice system deteriorated into sentimental nonsense. Simms agreed with defense attorney William Harrison, in Sonobe Hong's absence, that the first months following a child's birth are important for bonding with parents. Simms then pushed back the date that Monalim must begin serving his sentence to Nov. 2.

The judge is right about the importance of parental contact during a baby's first few months. But Monalim should have considered that when, with felony charges and a probable prison term pending, he chose to begin a new family. Will Simms' decision prompt other criminal defendants awaiting trial to decide the time is right to start a family, so they too can possibly delay their own sentences? Is society really being served by facilitating the "bonding" between babies and criminals?

These questions have no place in courtrooms, because the issue should not have arisen in the first place. Judge Simms' entertainment of such a motion for delay of sentencing -- allowed as the consequence of a defendant's irresponsible conduct -- is farcical. Her decision should be reversed.


Credit union growth

THE Supreme Court in February ruled the credit unions had overstepped their bounds in seeking new members lacking a common occupational, employer or geographic bond with the credit union's charting group. The House quickly and overwhelmingly approved a measure allowing credit unions to continue drawing membership from beyond their initial groups, but the Senate has come up short.

The legislation emerging from both chambers would grandfather in 20 million people who joined credit unions after 1982, when federal regulators allowed them to seek members without common bonds. In addition, the measures would allow the nation's 6,000 federally chartered credit unions to resume adding new members from beyond their core groups within "reasonable proximity."

The House bill contains a requirement that credit unions follow the same rules that apply to banks to reinvest in their communities, but the provision, despite support by the Clinton administration, was stripped from the Senate bill. The banking industry views credit unions as unfair competition because of their tax-exempt status. "In these days of consolidations and mega-mergers, credit unions are there helping the little guy," said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., after Senate passage of the bill. Still, it is difficult to consider an industry with credit union conglomerates with $1-billion-a-year tax subsidies as akin to David against Goliath.

The legislation would allow credit unions to grow and continue to compete with banks. A joint congressional conference is in a position to work out reasonable restrictions.


'Death in the family'

YESTERDAY, two flag-draped caskets in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda drew a somber crowd of senators and representatives, political staffers, law-enforcement officers and members of the public. They walked slowly, single file, in a circle, in tribute to a pair of policemen shot to death last Friday by a lone gunman.

A Rotunda ceremony is an honor usually reserved for presidents and national heroes, the latter of which Jacob Chestnut, 58, and John Gibson, 42, most certainly are. Chestnut was shot at the entrance to the Capitol when Russell E. Weston, Jr., 41, allegedly jumped the metal detector and began firing around him. Gibson was killed later during a showdown with Weston in the offices of Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Tex.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss, described the murders of Chestnut and Gibson like a "death in the family." The hurt was deep. Speaker after speaker of political note attempted to steady quavering voices as they paid accolades to the fallen men. Bouquets of flowers piled up on the steps of the Capitol, much like the extemporaneous show of adoration for Diana after her death. Even Weston's sobbing father appeared on TV news programs to apologize profusely to the victims, their families and the entire country for this very public tragedy in the nation's capital.

Meanwhile, Weston Jr. remains hospitalized and is recuperating. He could face the death penalty on the charge of murder of a federal officer. Yesterday, however, was a time to focus on Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the building representing the ultimate centerpiece of democracy.

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