When National Politics Has Local Repercussions

By now we’re all familiar with the case of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky molested children on the campus of Penn State both while he was a coach and after, when he was still a frequent and welcome guest on the campus. University officials, including university presidents and legendary football coach Joe Paterno, knew about Sandusky molesting children on their campus but did nothing to stop it because protecting the legacy of Paterno and the huge profits football generated for the university were more important to them than stopping a monster from molesting little boys.

Bad people made bad decisions and let a bad guy do bad things with impunity.

But this isn’t about those people.

The Sandusky matter is still in court, with the child molester insisting he got a raw deal – a raw deal, I tell ya! – and this is about his effort to get a do-over in court.

Last week John Cleland, the judge overseeing Sandusky’s case, withdrew from the proceedings because of charges Sandusky’s lawyers leveled against him.

Justice is taking a beating these days as more and more people ascribe to the notion that the end justifies the means.

Justice is taking a beating these days as more and more people subscribe to the notion that the end justifies the means.

Here’s how the Philadelphia Inquirer explained the judge’s withdrawal from the case.

Sandusky’s attorneys “have impugned the competence and integrity of essentially everyone associated with the grand jury’s investigation into [his] conduct, [his] trial and conviction and these post-conviction proceedings,” Cleland wrote. “Now they have chosen to impugn the integrity of the court himself.”

Cleland is no ordinary judge. When every single judge in the county where the case was to be heard refused to participate, claiming relationships with Penn State University – and, no doubt, a strong desire not to become pariahs in their own communities because of what they feared they were going to have to do – Cleland was lured out of retirement to oversee the case. Cleland is a straight shooter: eight years ago he chaired a state panel that investigated a scandal in which two judges were suspected of taking bribes to impose harsh sentences on juvenile offenders and sentence them to the juvenile detention center owned by the person paying the bribes. Eventually the two judges were tried, convicted, and sent to jail for a combined 45 years. Authorities eventually reviewed and overturned hundred cases of children harshly and unfairly sentenced for fun and profit.

In recusing himself from the case, Judge Cleland was clear about why he felt doing so was necessary (again, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer):

“In the current national environment in which some have chosen to embroil the courts and judges in controversy for less than honorable motives, the reality is that courts must err on the side of demonstrating fairness,” Cleland wrote in the eight-page filing in Centre County Court. “Counsel have elected to call into question my fairness and impartiality. … It would be imprudent to allow such a cloud to linger and to permit it to cast a shadow of legitimacy on the court, or any decision I would make.”

 And we all know what Cleland is talking about when he writes of “…the current national environment in which some have chosen to embroil courts and judges in controversy for less than honorable motives…”

This judge, for one, appears to be an honorable man. The lawyers who made the baseless charges, and their role models for doing so, appear to be…much less honorable.

It’s a new world and we’d better get used to it – and it’s just starting.

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