|No peeking, Lady Justice! You're supposed to be blind.|
We live in oddly polite times.
I know, I know. Everybody's up in arms and overwrought about everything, all the time. Yet, it seems like in the past, people were more willing to call a thing what it was.
Here's an example.
Last year, a 16-year-old boy named Ethan Couch was out driving around at night, very drunk and on Valium. He crashed his father's Ford F-350 pickup truck at high speed into some people standing on the side of the road, next to a disabled car.
Four people died. Two teenage passengers riding in the pickup's bed were thrown from the truck. One became paralyzed from the nose down, and can no longer speak or do anything.
This happened outside a town called Cleburne, Texas, which is near Fort Worth. It turned out that Ethan's dad Fred is a very wealthy man in the town. He owns something called Cleburne Metal Works, and makes around $10 million a year.
During the trial, Ethan's defense team put forth an argument that Ethan suffered from something called "Affluenza," which means that Ethan is such a rich and spoiled child, he has no moral compass. He can't possibly know right from wrong, or be held responsible for his actions.
|Meet Ethan Couch, a boy who cannot know right from wrong.|
Naturally, this argument holds no water whatsoever, and no legal expert in America not currently on the payroll of Cleburne Metal Works buys it.
Enter Justice Jean Boyd, a Texas Family Court judge. Jean's a Republican, and she's got a reputation for being a real law and order type. In Texas Family Court, verdicts are issued by the judge, rather than by a jury.
In 2012, a case came before Jean's court where another 16-year-old boy punched a man in the face during a fight. The man fell down, hit his head on the pavement, and died. Judge Jean sent that 16-year-old boy to prison for 10 years.
Of course, that boy, being poor and black, wasn't crippled by affluenza. He knew right from wrong, and he knew it was wrong to punch that man in the face.
Now, it seems like I'm going somewhere racial with this, and certainly that's part of it. But really, I'd like to steer the conversation toward corruption.
|Judge Jean Boyd. In the days prior to her decision in the Ethan Couch affluenza case, she suddenly announced her impending retirement.|
There is an organization called the State Integrity Investigation. It is a partnership between Global Integrity, the Center for Public Integrity, and Public Radio International.
State Integrity, in an effort to foster transparency in government, grades the various states according to their risk of political corruption.
Most recently, Texas received a score of D+, which put it at high risk.
I mention this because a funny thing happened with Judge Jean Boyd. In the days leading up to her verdict in the Ethan Couch affluenza case, Jean suddenly decided to retire.
She announced her impending retirement just before she announced her affluenza verdict.
Okay. So we've got a judge. She's about to issue an important decision about a teenage boy from a very wealthy family. As she's deliberating the young boy's fate, something happens. And she makes an abrupt decision to retire from her job.
Then she issues quite possibly the most unpopular court decision of 2013. She sentences Ethan Couch to 10 years probation, and strongly suggests (but does not mandate) that his parents send him for substance abuse treatment.
His parents agree and pack Ethan off to a private, $450,000 a year drug treatment facility in Malibu, California. In case you don't know, this is what Malibu looks like:
|Malibu Beach. Malibu is a popular drug treatment and mental health facility destination for rich people.|
Of course, Jean Boyd was pilloried in the media for her verdict. Organizations of every political stripe called for the Governor to remove her from the judicial bench. The outcome of that case would have otherwise ruined her career.
But see? She was retiring anyway.
She decided to retire while she was holding Ethan Couch's future in her hands.
And this is why I say we live in polite times. In all the criticism of the affluenza verdict, which was widespread and generally vicious, I have not seen the following words written anywhere:
Jean Boyd accepted a large cash bribe from Ethan's father. It was probably secretly transferred from a shell company into an offshore, anonymous bank account. It was enough money that Jean Boyd would never have to work again.
This is why Jean didn't care that she was about to torpedo her own career.
* * *
By the way, a young man named Rashad Owens crashed his car into a crowd at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas the other night.
Rashad was drunk. He was running from the police. He killed three people, one less than Ethan Couch killed in similar circumstances. Yes, Rashad is 21, so he's an adult, and can expect harsher treatment than a juvenile. Rashad is also poor and black.
No Malibu vacations for Rashad, and no bribes from dad. In his case, prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.