Note: this post was initially much more extensive. Pursuant to the advice of my beautiful wife, against whom I have never won an argument (and suspect I never will), and who’s advice has the usual effect of making my hot-heated initial reactions seem childish and ineffective, I have revised this post.
It seems that my humble commentary regarding the Register-Herald op-ed piece detailed in my last post touched quite a few nerves at the Monroe Watchman newspaper. For those of you who may not know, the Monroe Watchman is the main newspaper for Monroe County, West Virginia, and it has been continually published since 1872. It’s a great paper. I read it every week, and I am also a paying advertiser. They are also located right across the street from my office building.
Why should they care about my commentary in this post? Because the Watchman is owned by the family of the former prosecutor who I allegedly criticized, and understandably, they are protective of their family members. And also understandably, the former prosecutor is deeply hurt as a result of the lost election. And I completely understand the hurt, as I suffered through my father’s election defeat as a college student. It’s not easy to see negative television commercials about your father running during prime-time every couple of minutes for a month straight. Your natural reaction is to lash-out at your perceived threat, and I guess that that is what I was doing as well in my initial response in this post. And so I also understand why the former prosecutor feels the need to protect himself and his family.
This situation is not about me, it’s not about the former prosecutor, nor the current prosecutor, nor the magistrate – nor the Watchman. This is about Mr. Watson, who made the intentional choice to consume alcohol and drive a dozen children off of a 120 foot cliff in a Monroe County school bus. This is about Mr. Watson, who tried to save his own skin by lying and claiming that he consumed Nyquil the night before. This is about Mr. Watson, who misled much of the community into believing that he was innocent, only to let them down with the sad truth – that he had an alcohol problem. But, he still didn’t want to lose his job, and he didn’t want to lose his retirement. That was what Mr. Watson was worried about. Was he worried about the children on board his reckless DUI school bus? No, he was worried about himself. This is about the fact that Mr. Watson received a plea deal where only two days was recommended, and where he only received twelve (to serve on the weekends at his leisure).
When I was working as a young prosecutor in Raleigh North Carolina, I tried a man for 2nd offense DUI. He was convicted and sent to jail for one year. There was no accident, no children in the car, no adults in the car – nobody injured whatsoever. He was just some guy who got pulled over and failed some field sobriety tests. That was a serious charge. He was the first person I sent to jail as a prosecutor. I’ll never forget the image of a deputy walking up behind the man and putting him into handcuffs. Imagine if this man, when he was pulled over, had a child in the car? Imagine if he had a dozen children in the car. Imagine if he had a dozen children in the car and drove off a 120 foot cliff. Imagine that he did this with your child in the car, entrusted to his care, and that afterwards he lied and told you that it must have been the Nyquil he took the night before? My point is, this is about protecting the children. We should have made an example of this man. He was a school bus driver for heavens sake! The citizens of Monroe County trusted him to drive their children to school and back every day!
I have been on the other side of the coin as well. As a defense attorney in Greenbrier County several years ago, I had a client who was convicted of 2nd offense DUI. We begged and pleaded to the judge for a light sentence, since he wanted to join the military. The guy was sentenced to one year in jail – and he actually went to jail for about 8 months before he got out of jail. He wore the orange jumpsuit and ate the awful food for breakfast, lunch and dinner – everyday. He did his time. He didn’t whine or complain. He served his debt to society.
My argument is simply this: did this man not deserve a real punishment? Would it really have been a great miscarriage of justice if this man had really been forced to serve a real sentence in jail? I don’t think so. It happens all the time in 2nd or 3rd offense DUI cases. Is it not more egregious for a man to get drunk and then drive a school bus loaded with children? And then to actually crash off a cliff?
Since the Editor criticized me for making “no effort to discuss the issue with Mohler before writing [my] scathing assessment…” then I will reiterate the same offer that always exists on this blog – both to subjects of my posts and to casual observers: if you disagree with something I have said, then please, by all means, leave a comment on the blog. As always, anonymity will be maintained where requested.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney