At first glance, it appears that former D.C. Council chairman Kwame Brown got off easy. When he walked out of a federal courtroom Tuesday evening, he was a free man.
The federal bank fraud charge, to which he pleaded guilty in June,
hadn’t landed him in jail, only in the custody of federal marshals for an afternoon. Incarceration notwithstanding, spending a day with those folks seems like it could be fun if you wanted it to be.
But while Brown’s one-day sentence might have been good for his personal space, it was horrible for his public image. A longer jail sentence, or any sentence at all that would have put him behind bars, could have enabled him to publicly repent in a way that some people might have been able to forgive.
Even in the land of second acts, the judicial slap on the wrist Brown , a Democrat, received will make his climb back to public relevance harder than not, ironically.
You don’t need a law degree to see that Brown got off pretty easy on this from jump. The max in cases like this is 30 years, but the two sides agreed on zero to six months as a guideline from the beginning — although the judge was certainly allowed to move outside that if he so chose. It seems the government never had plans to throw the book at Brown.
That doesn’t mean people didn’t want it to. After news of the sentence broke, reactions on social media were incredulous. “No jail time? Kwame Brown must have called Olivia Pope,” @MoetwithMedusa tweeted, in reference to the character on ABC’s “Scandal.” Pope is based partially on the life of George H.W. Bush administration press aide Judy Smith, who has worked in crisis management for decades.
“Gotta love the discrepancy in sentencing between those in power and those not,” @jason_cowell wrote.
Really? Because on WTTG (Channel 5) on Tuesday night, political analyst Mark Plotkin differed. “Fred Cooke, [Brown’s] attorney making the statement to me that if he wasn’t the council chairman . . . they wouldn’t have prosecuted at all,” Plotkin said.
That’s where the loose translation of discretion comes into play. And while you may want to see someone’s head on a proverbial stake to satisfy your blood lust for political vengeance, that doesn’t mean it takes that much to hit Brown where it counts.
Do not underestimate the anguish that comes with shaming your family name in your home town, particularly if you participate in public life. I can’t tell you what happened in that courtroom to keep Brown out of jail, but I can tell you that the likelihood of his getting elected again is minuscule.
Sure, it’s easy to say he should have thought of that when he was doing what he did, but that’s my point. He didn’t. And he’s going to live with that for the rest of his life. Jail would have only helped him back to the path of forgiveness and rebuilding of public trust that he might not deserve.
Instead, he’ll be paying the price for those few hours he spent in federal custody longer than he would have been if he were in prison for six months. Because people like you and me won’t forget.
If you’re looking for someone to blame, maybe it’s the system. Brown’s attorneys did their job. “Anytime you’re advocating for someone who is involved in a high-profile case and is engaged in conduct that many people view as deserving of condemnation, to be able to have your client walk out of the courtroom with you is a great result,” Michael Nachmanoff, federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, said Tuesday.
The saddest part about this is that in the end, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ordered Brown to 480 hours of community service. That’s 60 eight-hour work days. Two months.
What kind of place do we live in where it takes a court nearly five months to stick a guy in custody for a few hours, only to turn around tell that same person to go do what they should have been doing to begin with: Serving the community?
Oh, that’s right. The capital of the United States of America.
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