Olympia, WA @ County Courthouse Complex (5-16-14) — It was a bright sunny Friday afternoon as the crowd slowly assembled at the foot of the hill crowned by the County’s courthouse complex by Capitol Lake. Ages ranged from teens to grandparents, all white except for one gentleman of color (Henry Griffin) who had been victimized by Shaun Goodman, a local wealthy businessman owning Vantage Communications, a Ferrari, and a Lamborghini. During Goodman’s high speed chase, said to have exceeded 100 mph, he eluded police, racing through the heart of Olympia while drunk driving his sports car and Mr. Griffin to the point of causing the captive passenger to leap from the speeding automobile to save his life.
Griffin got into the Ferrari voluntarily, having no idea of how drunk Goodman was or his long history of drunk driving offenses. “Yeah he didn’t even have a blow and go in the car or I would have not got in,” commented Griffin. Henry now sees a chiropractor 3 times per week and a doctor every week to treat the pain from his injuries.
Sam Miller, who organized the demonstration, cautioned protesters the issue was larger than Goodman, but “…about inequality. The amount of money you make and the color of your skin should not determine your punishment,” he stated. In a Face Book posting inviting community participation in the demonstration, he characterized the event as follows:
On Friday May 9th Thurston County Judge Christine Schaller and prosecuting attorney James Powers agreed to allow Shaun Goodman a man with no less than 7 alcohol related charges to serve 1 year of work release. After leading police on a drunken chase in his Ferrari through Downtown Olympia all while holding a man hostage. We will meet at the corner of Lakeridge Drive SW and Descutes Parkway SW. and march to the courthouse Bring Noise (drums, megaphones, elephants, trumpets, loud neighbors) and signs (Anti-corruption, pro-justice)
Still, Shaun Goodman was too good a poster child symbolizing the injustice routinely meted out by the Thurston County criminal (and family, some would argue) justice system for citizens to ignore given their misapprehensions regarding how it functions, by design/intent.
As more residents gathered at the bottom of courthouse hill by Capitol Lake to make impromptu protest signs for the rally, Henry Griffin himself appeared and would join the march to protest a criminal justice system seemingly out of touch with the community it’s, in theory, supposed to protect WITHOUT FEAR NOR FAVOR. Griffin was questioned and claimed the prosecutor never consulted him prior to Goodman’s sentencing, nor was he provided an opportunity to address the court before sentencing or given a restitution hearing for the injuries he’d sustained during the high speed chase. Upon fact checking, an interview with the deputy prosecutor who handled the case, James Powers, esq. yielded somewhat contradictory information.
The attorney for the State (Powers) admitted he had not, in fact, consulted about sentencing with the victim because, Powers says he reasoned, Goodman was getting the maximum sentence for his crime(s) allowed for under Washington law–1 year. This included the conviction for DUI and felony eluding (a class ‘C’ criminal offense). Because most of Goodman’s prior DUI’s had not occurred within a 10-year span, they were barred from triggering a felony classification of this 6th/7th repetition of the offense. Likewise, the felony eluding sentencing guidelines precluded Goodman’s being taken into custody by Washington’s prison system. However, Powers claimed he had discussed the case, in general, with the victim and had asked how he felt about it.
The prosecutor also argued he had sent Griffin necessary forms to fill out before the restitution hearing could be scheduled. As of the time of the interview, Griffin had not returned them to the prosecutor’s office. Powers allowed as to how restitution was appropriate provided the State had the facts and sworn statement from the victim to pursue such a remedy.
Powers agreed victim impact sessions were of mutual benefit to the offender and the community, but despite Goodman’s having been ordered to undergo them in his sentencing for prior DUI convictions, none had been requested in this case because the prosecutor believed they could not be imposed as part of probation since no probation could be required if the maximum sentence was being ordered allowable under law. Still, he admitted he hadn’t considered the possibility of making such victim impact sessions a part of the sentence itself, not part of ‘probation’, much like the fines imposed, perhaps even in lieu of a portion of the fines–not that prior victim impact sessions appeared to have influenced Goodman’s subsequent behavior much. Still, this ignores the benefit to the community in having an opportunity in a controlled environment to confront the miscreant and hold him accountable to the court of public opinion. The community was very angry, in this instance, for feeling as though it had been excluded from the process–and it had!
Jon Tunheim, Thurston’s elected County Prosecutor, had been approached almost 3 years ago with the suggestion his office needed a citizens’ board which met monthly with him to discuss his office’s performance/priorities. That suggestion was blown off by Tunheim as though it had been made by a panhandler. Similarly, there is no citizens accountability board for Thurston’s Sheriff’s office or Olympia’s Police department. It wouldn’t hurt Thurston’s judges to have a monthly powwow with citizens about the measure of justice (or NOT) meted out by these elected officials. That none of this exists speaks volumes to why our criminal justice system is so out of touch with residents. If it looks like they’re not listening, it’s because they aren’t. If it looks like money, status, race, and a high priced lawyer makes a difference, it’s because they do. George W. Bush might have given sage advice to those destined to face such systemic inequality by counseling them to grow up in a white wealthy family and with enough money to afford an expensive lawyer–assets that make powdering one’s nose as a ‘youthful indiscretion’ no bar to the highest office in the land.
Having said all this (stating the obvious), the case of Shaun Goodman’s walk on the sunny side of the street in Thurston’s criminal justice system stirs mixed emotions. Many @ctivists passionately believe our prison system is an inhumane anachronism and should be abolished (along with police). Most judges have never met a cop they didn’t like as evidenced by how they routinely turn a blind eye to perjury from the same. Most judges are far more inclined to throw the book at a defendant than the leniency Schaller (the presiding judge in Goodman’s case) is alleged to have ordered. But, let’s examine the facts and see if they support these pronouncements castigating what, by all accounts in the legal community, is a competent, hard working, popular new superior court judge on the bench in Thurston.
A judge’s powers, in law, are not infinite, but are circumscribed by law as passed by our legislature. If the law is inadequate, a judge cannot, ad hoc, impose what does not exist. Stiffer DUI penalties than currently exist were proposed to Washington’s legislature. It refused to pass them into law. Virtually all judges almost always go along with plea bargains between the parties (State and defendant in a criminal action), as refusing to do so would quickly lead to no plea bargains being consummated at all–something neither the court’s budget, nor the prosecutor’s, nor the public defender’s could long sustain. Plea bargains are made not only in the interest of justice, but for expedience and practical considerations. Here, while a kidnapping/hostage taking charge could have been filed, Griffin did enter the vehicle voluntarily before the subsequent high speed chase began. He was able to escape the speeding Ferrari by leaping from it while it was in motion, sustaining serious resulting injuries.
Ultimately, Goodman (through his counsel’s negotiations) did plead to the DUI misdemeanor and the felony eluding. The law and sentencing guidelines, such as they are, do not provide for a greater sentence than the year Goodman was given. Work release is considered, in law, to be time in custody, i.e. ‘jail’ time, just as home monitoring is. Goodman was NOT given home monitoring. He must return to the jail each day after work and is monitored closely while away from the jail work release facility. Schaller’s remarks prior to sentencing about Goodman’s importance to his employees was dicta, not terms of her order or sentencing. She can recommend some conditions of confinement, such as work release, but cannot mandate them. The Sheriff is part of the executive branch of government. Schaller is part of the judicial branch. Each of the 3 branches (executive, legislative, judicial) are co-equal in law and judges do not attempt to supersede the authority of the other branches. It is the Sheriff’s prerogative to determine who will or won’t be admitted to a work release program which his office (not the judge’s) administers. It is within the Sheriff’s legal authority to determine when a prisoner will be released, the conditions of their confinement, or even if they will be accepted into custody at all. What, after all, is ‘good time’ and the added time off for the work trustees do if not an alteration of the time prescribed by the sentence according to the administrative judgment of the Sheriff? Nor are the Sheriff’s guidelines completely arbitrary. They have factors (e.g. escape risk, recidivism, cooperation, history of infractions while in custody, risk to the community, seriousness of the offense, notoriety, etc.) which will be considered, in theory, without respect to race, income, or other immaterial ancillary issues. But, people are human, they know each other or of each other. Who you are in the community remains as important as what you are.
If the prosecutor erred, he did so by failing to include the community (also a victim of Goodman) in the deliberative/sentencing phase or the restorative justice phase of this case. If Schaller erred, it was her glib remarks from the bench in the face of such a serious crime by a multiple repeat/incorrigible offender. The ‘maximum’ penalty in law is NOT a synonym for justice rooted in reconciliation or a community accountability process. It is rooted in another anachronism–adversarial justice, a modern equivalent of trial by combat where might (or MONEY in this instance) makes right. In the 21st century, we must quickly evolve away from such barbaric traditions as torture, imprisonment (initially conceived as more humane than floggings), adversarial proceedings, and due process riddled with perjury. An offender’s wealth or social status or race should not be dominant factors in the kind of justice expected.
Sam Miller and a couple of women supporting his cause were waiting, sitting on the pickup truck tailgate at the bottom of the courthouse hill by Capitol Lake around 2:30 pm, Friday. Others began to arrive, including Henry Griffin, the victim in the wild ride, to support the march on the Thurston County Courthouse. Major mainstream media teams began to appear including KOMO (from Seattle), the Daily Olympian, et ux. Sam was interviewed, as was Mr. Griffin. Impromptu signs were hastily and artfully made. The sky was blue, the photographic light was fantastic.
A lot of glad handing and words of mutual support were exchanged. The crowd began to line the curb, holding their signs aloft for traffic to see. Honks of acknowledgement were heard as drivers sounded their encouragement. Nobody was heard yelling, “Someone get a rope,” but the angst of the group was palpable, their anger toward Thurston’s DOA criminal justice system was unmistakable. They’d had enough.
At a couple of points during the vigil, a gleaming white stretch limo was seen driving up courthouse hill. Speculation was made it might be transporting Shaun Goodman, given he’d been relieved of his driver’s license following his DUI conviction. It later appeared to be delivering an occupant to the courthouse parking lot. The identity of its passenger was never confirmed. What was confirmed is Shaun Goodman had yet to begin serving his sentence. He was not in custody.
At one point, a young man on a skateboard arrived in the company of a young lady and another male. He began to scold the crowd, invoking arguments that their protest would be futile and Goodman was an asset to the community and his employees–a sentiment judge Schaller had made before sentencing which clearly provoked the protesters then–AND NOW!
Protesters began to yell at the younger man. He began to yell louder. The crowd was urged to step past him to line the road for oncoming traffic. He stepped in front of them yet again. The yelling grew in intensity and insults were exchanged. He began to flip off the demonstrators. Sam Miller, the organizer, urged the group to turn their back on their antagonist and march up the hill toward the courthouse–which they did.
The young challenger was invited to come to the courthouse to be interviewed, but demurred. His young friends tried to avoid being photographed. He seemed more interested in confrontation than dialog or providing a reasoned statement for public consumption.
Driving up the hill was easier than walking it, and as luck would have it, a parking spot opened up adjacent to where the protesters would take their stand, just in time to gear up and video record their arrival into the entryway of the courthouse complex. Signs held high, the spirit of camaraderie was irrepressible, their cause just. Their erstwhile nemesis from a few minutes prior was nowhere in sight. A megaphone was on hand, used to announce their purpose and complaint. Sensing a lull in the drama, a quick foray into the covered walkway captured the image of three Thurston deputy sheriffs conferring about the demonstrators. They immediately shrank from the camera, shy for those charged with taking mug shots and searching body cavities. Sgt Matthew, one of their number, was less shy. He greeted the photographer with a kind of impertinent familiarity stemming from an incident of official abuse circa 2011 instigated by one of his peers. “I haven’t seen you for a while,” he offered. “Maybe that’s a good thing?” the photojournalist parried. “Why are you taking my picture?” he challenged. “Press,” came the obvious reply. “Oh?–you mean that little [PRESS] button you like to wear?” he guffawed. “Uh, yeah! If government ‘permission’ was a requirement, a ‘FREE PRESS’ wouldn’t mean much, now would it?” rejoined the journalist non grata. Matthew wasn’t going to gain the upper hand in this exchange and knew it. He retreated into the bowels of the Superior Court building beyond the security checkpoint.
After snapping a few more shots of casual denizens of the courthouse complex, a return to the group found uniformed deputies sniffing suspiciously at the demonstrators and resentfully glaring at the camera. It wasn’t a marriage made in Heaven.
Finally, after what seemed all too brief a stay, Sam Miller thanked the crowd for its support and restraint. He’d asked them to respect the premises by not venturing inside the courthouse building itself. The rally broke up and the group disbanded. There were many cameras present, both from the mainstream media and by we the people. There were no arrests and no confrontations other than the brief altercation described above which had taken place at the foot of the courthouse hill by Capitol Lake.
It may not have been Olympia’s finest hour, but it was civilized and a good start.