Spinning Tragedy

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

BRIAN AND Beverly Mauck were shot to death last week in Graham, Wash., just months after being wed. Police have arrested Daniel Tavares Jr., who had recently completed a 16-year prison term in Massachusetts for killing his mother. Mr. Tavares fled the Boston area after being released on his own recognizance by Judge Kathe Tuttman. This murder, this defendant and this judge now have become grotesque fodder in Mitt Romney's and Rudolph W. Giuliani's quests for the presidency.

As governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney appointed Ms. Tuttman to the Superior Court in 2006; she had served as a prosecutor in the Boston area for 18 years. After the news of Mr. Tavares's arrest in the Washington killings, Mr. Romney called for the judge's resignation. Judge Tuttman "showed an inexplicable lack of good judgment in a hearing that decided to put someone on the street who had not only in the past been convicted of manslaughter, but had threatened the lives of other individuals and was a flight risk," the Associated Press quoted Mr. Romney as saying. Mr. Romney's facts are wrong. The record shows that Judge Tuttman merely followed the law.

Mr. Tavares's case came before Judge Tuttman on a narrow question: whether Mr. Tavares, who had finished serving his sentence for manslaughter, should be forced to post bail for assault charges filed just days before his scheduled release. A judge in a lower court had ruled that he should. The charges were based on alleged incidents dating back two years, while Mr. Tavares was in prison, including an allegation that he spat on a guard. In determining whether to set bail, Judge Tuttman had to decide whether Mr. Tavares was a flight risk, considering, among other things, his ties to the community, whether he'd skipped bail before and whether he could find work. Although he referred to Mr. Tavares's violent history, the prosecutor in the case did not ask for -- as required by Massachusetts law -- a separate "dangerousness hearing" to determine whether Mr. Tavares should be held. A judge cannot hold such a hearing without a request from a prosecutor, according to Massachusetts legal experts. Recent news accounts indicate that Mr. Tavares allegedly had threatened Mr. Romney, but those threats were not raised during the hearing. Judge Tuttman released Mr. Tavares without bail, on condition that he hold a job, live with a sister in the area and check in with his parole officer three times a week.

Perhaps worse than Mr. Romney's craven attack on Judge Tuttman was Mr. Giuliani's response. Sensing his opponent's vulnerability, he almost gleefully seized on the matter. "The governor is going to have to explain his appointment, and the judge is going to have to explain her decision," Mr. Giuliani said, before claiming that crime rose in Massachusetts during Mr. Romney's tenure.

The policies and records of candidates are fair game. But what has been lost is a sense of fair play. Two people are dead. A judge -- by all accounts smart, competent and fair -- is undoubtedly anguished over a legitimate decision that led to tragedy. And all Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani can think about is their own skins and how best to spin these events. We understand that this is all about politics. But it's politics at its worst.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company