washingtonpost.com
Potomac Confidential
Washington's Hour of Talk Power

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, December 18, 2008 12:00 PM

Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.

Today's Column: At End of the Road, Sen. Warner Sticks to the Middle

Fisher was online Thursday, Dec. 18, at Noon ET to look at the verdict in the case of the Virginia father who left his child in a hot car to die, the latest on Inauguration congestion, and great staycation ideas in Washington.

A transcript follows.

Check out Marc's blog, Raw Fisher.

In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.

Archives: Discussion Transcripts

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Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks.

So let's get this straight: A guy leaves his 21-month-old baby in a steaming hot car for an entire day and the kid dies and some judge decrees that this is not gross negligence and does not reflect a callous disregard for human life?

If the decision in the Miles Harrison case is not the Nay of the Day, then please tell me what is. I don't doubt that the man loved his child or that he feels unspeakably awful about what he did or that he is otherwise in many ways a fine person (though I have severe doubts about his qualifications for parenthood), but if the law doesn't consider his actions criminal negligence, then the term doesn't have much meaning.

As for the Yay of the Day, hey, they're throwing a whole slew of parties around here in late January, and one of them, something called the Legends Ball, features George Clinton, Chaka Khan, and Harold Melvin's Blue Notes, among others. Yes, George Clinton at an inaugural ball. Does it get cooler than that? Of course, it will set you back $450 to attend, and the press release dares to call this a "people's ball," claiming that the event will be "affordable compared to other events" in the city that night. Harumph.

Lots on the plate today here on the big show, including inauguration congestion issues (are you planning to brave the crowds and if so, do you have a transportation strategy you'd like to share with the class?), the aforementioned dad-who-locked-the-baby-in-the-car case, and the pretty scary drumbeat of budget and service cuts we're seeing coming down the pike from governors in both Maryland and Virginia.

Plus whatever else is on your mind, starting right now....

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McLean, Va.: I'm sorry, Marc, but leaving a baby to die in a hot car is absolutely gross negligence, regardless of the circumstances. Plus 13 cell phone calls while he was driving to his office? I would have found the father guilty but suspended his sentence, or not imposed a sentence. That is a truly horrible way to die and I don't think justice was served in this case.

Marc Fisher: Even if you're inclined to cut the guy a break because of his obvious remorse, even if you feel deep down that anyone can make a mistake, even a big one, the facts of the case add up to a pattern of negligence. Here's a guy who, with a 21-month-old in the back seat, makes and takes 13 cell calls while driving to the office. Here's a guy who left the kid in the car while he did his dry cleaning errand. And his excuse is that his mind was occupied with some serious stuff going down at the office. Please.

Let's grant that some folks just aren't willing or able to take on the responsibility of protecting a child. But once you do accept the role--and this guy actively sought the role, going to great lengths to adopt this baby--there are basic obligations that are utterly inflexible. The law should reflect these obligations and should make an example of this guy.

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washingtonpost.com: Star-Gazing Foreseen at the Inaugural Balls (The Post, Dec. 18)

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washingtonpost.com: Christmas at the People's House (Restrictions May Apply) (The Post, Dec. 18)

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Arlington, Va.: So what to you is more outrageous, Gov. Blagojevich expecting a campaign contribution to select Jesse Jackson Jr.'s wife the head of the state lottery commission or Jesse Jackson Jr.'s expectation that his wife be selected as head of the state lottery commission?

Marc Fisher: I'm going to go with Choice A, Arlington, because we may all have lust in our hearts, but he who holds out the carrot is the greater violator because he is leading us to act on our baser instincts. A governor who goes around soliciting graft is worse than someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to climb a ladder.

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Bethesda, Md.: So instead of letting travelers ride for free on the big day to avoid mass confusion among the millions of out-of-towners at the all but indecipherable farecard machines, Metro is actually RAISING the prices!

On what should be a solemn or perhaps even joyous historic occasion, sadly the whole day promises to be a real fiasco in the making!

Marc Fisher: Well, they're not exactly price-gouging, they're charging rush hour prices during what are normally off hours. And in fact they are providing extended rush-hour service, so it's only fair to charge the higher fares. And they should go to the higher fares throughout the Inauguration week because out of town visitors should pay extra to use Metro, just as we charge them hotel taxes and convention center fees and so on. Soaking the tourists is a grand American tradition, and it's good for the local budgets too.

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Sandy Spring: So will the Pants guy ask the Supreme Court to hear his case?

Marc Fisher: The D.C. Court of Appeals this morning ruled against the Pants Man, Roy Pearson, rejecting his arguments that the Custom Cleaners owners somehow defrauded him by losing his suit pants, if indeed they did lose them.

I wouldn't put it past Pearson to appeal all the way to the high court, but this case is pretty much over.

I'll have more on the appeals court's ruling on the blog, Raw Fisher, later today....

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washingtonpost.com: Appeals Court Rejects Request for New Trial in Pants Case (The Post, Dec. 18)

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Alexandria, Va.: Yes -- it was gross negligence to leave the kid in the car. What does putting the dad in jail accomplish?

Marc Fisher: It's not about causing the father more pain. It's about fulfilling the court's obligation to maintain standards and send clear messages about what public behaviors are and are not acceptable to the broader community. If we were to give every bad guy a pass if they were essentially good-hearted and seemed only to have made an error, we'd be asking judges to do an impossible task--reading the hearts and minds of each person who comes before them--and we'd leave the public hopelessly confused about what behaviors are really beyond the pale.

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Woodbridge, Va.: I never heard of this guy Madoff until recently -- what an unbelievable mess.

That said, the SEC should really throw the book at themselves for allowing this nonsense to go as long as it did.

Marc Fisher: The most outrageous part of a massively outrageous story is the fact that a perfectly responsible and reasonable public citizen came forward and reported to the authorities exactly what was going on, and the SEC ignored him. Of course the authorities cannot investigate every claim that comes into the email box, but the tips they got about Madoff sound like they were detailed and persuasive.

My colleague Steve Pearlstein had a terrific piece yesterday about the Madoff scandal, and over at the NY Times, Tom Friedman wrote well about how this case reveals just how corrupt our entire financial structure in this country became in recent years.

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Springfield, Va.: Marc, Several weeks ago there was a triple homicide in Springfield. After the initial coverage no updates have been provided by the press. Did I miss a big break in the case? What do you hear from your reporter friends?

Marc Fisher: I don't see anything since our Nov. 23 story, I'm afraid. Anybody out there know of any new developments?

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Alexandria, Va.: Thank you for that touching story about retiring Sen. John Warner. I am very proud he was our senator and did such a wonderful job representing our Commonwealth. I am sad to see him retire.

washingtonpost.com: At End of the Road, Sen. Warner Sticks to the Middle (Post, Dec. 18)

Marc Fisher: Thanks very much. I had a great time visiting with Warner as he wrapped up his three decades of service on the Hill. He's a splendid storyteller and has led a fascinating life. He showed me some wonderful mementos in his office, including a fabulous letter from the Secretary of the US Senate written in 1944, a To Whom It May Concern letter of recommendation for an 18-year-old kid named John Warner who was the son of a prominent Washington gynecologist (the Senator's father.)

There aren't many left in the Senate like Warner, which isn't to say there aren't some very knowledgeable and dedicated senators, but Warner had a very old school view of the job that involved reaching beyond party and ideology and working with folks across the aisle. That ought to be part of the mix.

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Rental on housing market fo Inauguration...: Marc, Any idea what the rental housing market is for Inauguration? Someone told me that I could get around 15K for my 3-bedroom house which is on the Orange Line (8 minute walk to Virginia Square) for one week. That can't be right, can it? I would jump on that in a heartbeat!

Marc Fisher: Good luck, and please do write it if you get anything close to that kind of money. What I'm seeing and hearing is far less dramatic--yes, there's a strong market for rentals, but not in the price-gouging categories. A lot of folks who figured on making a killing by going to sleep for a few days on their friends' couch and renting out their own place are finding that there just aren't that many people willing to plunk down thousands for a two-bedroom unit in, say, Laurel.

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Washington, D.C.: You say that the law should make an example of the guy who left his kid in the car. Do you think there are a lot of parents out there who were planning to leave their kid in a hot car, but after reading about this guy going to jail won't do it? Come on. How is society helped in anyway by this guy going to jail? He clearly will be punished for the rest of his life by the guilt and remorse regardless of the legal decision.

Marc Fisher: No, I don't think many parents are scouting around for an opportunity to leave their kids to boil in a hot car for eight hours. But I do think that social expectations are defined and enforced by peer pressure and by public examples. For example, the fact that most people now use seat belts is a change in human behavior that resulted from a combination of peer pressure--what, you're driving Billy around town and he's not strapped in?--and publicly defined standards--getting pulled over for not following new laws about seat belts. Similarly, whereas people used to leave kids in the car while they did shopping errands, we tend not to do that anymore, both because friends and random strangers might call us out when we do so, and because the authorities have made clear that that's a dumb thing to do.

That's the value of making an example of this Harrison guy. Whether he has or hasn't had enough pain as a result of his negligent act is beside the point.

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Yes -- it was gross negligence to leave the kid in the car. What does putting the dad in jail accomplish? : You might say that about any crime. The fact is, his choices killed an innocent baby and he must pay the debt.

Marc Fisher: That's a shorter way to say it--and you're spot on.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm a dad of twin toddlers -- and my kids are #1 in my thoughts and actions.

If errands have to be run -- dry cleaning, etc. -- then have to bring them in with you. It's easier when the kids are elsewhere, of course, but you cannot leave a toddler in a car unattended for an longer than it takes to walk from our door to theirs.

Marc Fisher: Yes, though of course good parents have to draw a line at some age and decide to give kids some independence and breathing room. We're in a strange spot in this country now where the child security imperative has gone haywire and seems to govern adult behavior far more than it needs to. But for a toddler, there's just no question.

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Bethesda, Md.: Two points about the dad who left his kid in the car: first, if it had been a woman, I doubt that the gross negligence charge would have been dropped; second, if it had been a poor, minority parent of either sex, not only would the gross negligence charge have stuck, but he or she probably would have been given jail time. This reminds me of the other father in Virginia, the one with 16 or so kids who left on in the minivan in similar circumstances and the toddler died. If I remember correctly, he got off as well, and tried to blame the incident on one of his teenagers who was supposed to look after the toddler.

Marc Fisher: Fascinating--I hadn't thought about it, but that sounds right. A woman would likely be held to a higher standard--we somehow expect a mother to be more protective and to know what's right, whereas if a father claims he was too distracted by thinking about work to notice that he was about to kill his child, we think, oh sure, well maybe he had a big meeting or an important call to make.

Remember the outrage when the mother pushed her kid out of the car on the Beltway and left him there because he'd been misbehaving in the car? She was pilloried--and rightly so. But would a father doing the same thing have met with a milder reaction? I bet he might have. Something about tough love or some such nonsense.

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Washington, D.C.: What got me about the Miles Harrison decision wasn't so much the acquittal -- I don't know what I think the punishment should be here -- but the legal reasoning, namely, that death through negligence needs to also have a "callous disregard of human life" for the negligent to be found guilty.

I'm thinking about the struggles that bicycling advocates have trying to get the deaths of cyclists to be taken seriously, but there are broader situations as well. A failure to yield, because you were reading a text message on your cell phone, and you crashed into someone and killed him -- and that's OK because your lapse of attention didn't show a "callous disregard of human life"?

Marc Fisher: Goodness, if that's not callous disregard, then what do you have to do to get convicted in that situation--aim the car at the cyclist and gun the engine?

Of course, some of those bicyclist incidents are rather gray--there are cyclists who dart into traffic, weave through lines of cars and in other ways invite disaster. But you're right that drivers distracted by cell conversations do seem to be catching breaks in court that are unjustified.

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How is society helped in anyway by this guy going to jail?: society is helped by keepin neglectful parents from helpless children.

Marc Fisher: That would be nice.

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Arlington, Va.: I just want to be positive about your column on John Warner who was a fine senator, certainly a change from the beginning when we just thought of him as one of Elizabeth Taylor's husbands. I liked that he had the courage to come out against Ollie North when North ran for Senate.

When George Allen debated Jim Webb on Meet The Press, Tim Russert asked Allen if he agreed with the president's position on Iraq or John Warner's and, while Allen hemmed and hawed, Webb said "I agree with Sen. Warner" and got my vote.

Marc Fisher: Webb and John Warner developed quite a good working relationship despite their party differences. I was a bit frustrated in my interview with Warner because he seemed to be holding back here and there when I asked him about his party and its focus on social issues, or about the direction of the GOP. His desire not to speak ill of his friends and colleagues seemed to overcome his interest in making clear that he believes the Republican party has lost its way on some key issues.

But Warner always picked his shots. The decision not to endorse Ollie North, like this fall's decision not to endorse Jim Gilmore as his successor, did not come easily, and Warner is seriously uncomfortable with being considered disloyal in any way, but in the end, he made his own way, and that's what voters found attractive about him.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Are you going bowling this weekend? Whoopee.

Marc Fisher: Wasn't planning on it--why?

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Washington, D.C.: How about yesterday's story about the police lieutenant who has been charged for DUI four times in the past several months -- and nothing has happened to him. I guess cops take care of their own.

washingtonpost.com: DUI Arrest Is Officer's 4th This Year The Post, Dec. 17)

Marc Fisher: Pretty outrageous--take a seat in traffic court someday and see how the system handles folks who are on their 2nd DUI. We're talking some pretty steep fines and other consequences--loss of driving privileges, etc.

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Kid dies in car: I'd love to see a study comparing sentences with socioeconomic/professional status. In my memory, the professionals get passes and the lower class/blue collar/uneducated folks get jail time. In Richmond a minister got a pass ("he's suffered enough") and an unemployed loser got major jail time.

Marc Fisher: True, but it depends a lot on the nature of the charge. In some areas, the courts have been getting much tougher--drunk driving, providing alcohol to underage kids, letting kids hold alcohol parties in your house. Lots of otherwise upstanding citizens of considerable means are getting the same kinds of penalties as less affluent folks on these matters. But in matters of parenting and child abuse, the distinction you describe may be documentable--that would be a great research project for an ambitious reporter or academic.

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Arlington, Va.: Convict this guy who left the kid in the car if you want, but I think putting him in prison is laughably stupid as he is not a likely repeat offender or threat to society and it is a very expensive example for the rest of us.

As it is we can't build prisons fast enough to fill them with petty drug users and people far more likely to harm themselves, in large part because of this "make an example of him" foolishness and also because of our law and order culture.

That is why I applaud Kaine's move to up the time frame for some early release. We can't even afford to build a road anymore and part of it is this prison obsession.

Marc Fisher: I don't know that prison was the right answer for this guy. My main concern was that he be convicted--that the message to the broader public be sent. A good judge could have come up with a creative sentence that would send that message both to Harrison and to the larger community, perhaps something involving work for organizations that care for adopted kids, or fines to support child welfare services that are being cut back in the budget crunch.

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Chicago, Ill.: The comments you're getting asking why the dad should serve time, remind me of how people tend to go easy on drivers who accidentally kill someone or otherwise cause accidents. In each case, I think the leniency is because it's something that could happen to "us," rather than only to "them."

Marc Fisher: Right, but I do sometimes wonder about the celebrated cases in which someone hits a pedestrian and is sent to prison for an extended period when there didn't appear to be gross negligence. Those are the 'there but for the grace of God go I' cases, whereas this one is different: Most parents simply cannot imagine ever being even close to making this kind of monstrous mistake.

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death through negligence needs to also have a "callous disregard of human life" for the negligent to be found guilty.: By that logic, drunk driving would be legal. No. If you chose to do something that kills someone, it's a crime. Maybe not murder, but manslaughter or criminal negligence.

Marc Fisher: Right--the law should be based on whether the person had the ability to do the right thing or the ability to avoid whatever disaster occurred. If I accidentally plow into a bicyclist who has just darted out from between parked cars, and I was traveling at the speed limit, that's quite different from the scenario in which I hit the cyclist because I refuse to cede the lane to him.

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Re: Bowling : Navy v. Wake in the Eagle Bowl. I can't believe this great game didn't immediately come to mind.

Marc Fisher: Oh my goodness--I completely missed that. No, I'm not going to RFK, but I do like the idea of putting the sad old stadium to some use, and I feel compelled to support any bowl game that is not played in some Sun Belt city and is not named for a chip or other snack item. But I don't exactly feel obliged to attend a meaningless game on a cold and windy day involving teams about which I know nothing. You going?

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Sen. Warner: I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about Sen. Warner. We concluded that anyone who's disaffected with their own party should form a new one with Warner as the model legislator. They should call it the "Prudent Party." He really was/is a great senator.

Marc Fisher: Now there's a political movement guaranteed to get entire dozens of votes. Hell yes, I'm a Prudent man and I'm going all out for the Prudent people. That'll get em out to the polls. But seriously, I agree: There's a wide open space in this country for true centrist candidates to garner support from all over the place. That's why you hear Mark Warner talking about gathering a cluster of Radical Centrists in the Congress. And that's probably what made Obama as attractive as he was--despite his decidedly liberal record, he comes across as a moderate, and certainly his Cabinet selections have reinforced that idea.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc --

It seems that in the Metro news there are certain storylines that recur over and over. Lately there's one that goes like this: A PG county cop does something that would get a normal citizen a lengthy prison term. There's a big show of saying no man is above the law, but when it's time to go to trial something happens -- the case gets dismissed, the dog eats the charging paper, whatever -- and he walks free, with the prosecutor saying something like, well, we all make mistakes, he's a good cop and truly sorry. I'm talking specifically about the story this week of the PG Lt. with 4 DUI's in a year, but that's just one of many. What's going on?

Marc Fisher: As the earlier post said, there is a strong perception that the police and the authorities in general take care of their own. And then the Prince George's politicians complain that they and their police force lack public confidence. They tend to blame the press for this, but you've hit on the real reason--there are just too many examples in which citizens see that there really are double standards at play, and that undermines trust faster than the offending acts themselves.

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the leniency is because it's something that could happen to "us," rather than only to "them.": But most of us would never forget about our kids. The ones who do, really are criminal in thinking thier lives, careers, obsessions are more important than their children. None of us would neglect our kids. None of us would leave our kid to fend for themselves for a week while we go to Vegas. Neglecting one's kid is a crime and does reflect a sick, criminal mind. WE are not like that.

Marc Fisher: Ok, if "we" means responsible parents. But in the public imagination, does it also have other definitions, definitions based on where people live, what they look like, or what their economic status may be? To some extent, yes. My son has been arguing with his English teacher about stereotypes--he says that while stereotypes are often exaggerated or wrong, they can also be useful, and we rely on them every day to decide if some character on the street is threatening, or if we should open the door when a stranger knocks. Sometimes we are grievously wrong about those stereotypes and sometimes they save our lives. His teacher says his view is ignorant. I happen to agree with my son. Stereotypes are dangerous and sometimes evil, but they exist because they can also be useful and even essential. The key is to know how to use them carefully and fairly, and that's a hard life's work.

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Cystal City, Va.: If the Metro bus driver who killed two women while making an illegal turn got jail time, so should the dad.

Marc Fisher: Excellent point, and exactly right, though if you'll recall our discussions about that case over near the National Archives in the District, the video of the bus made it look like the bus driver didn't care one whit about those two women and just charged ahead.

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Arlington, Va.: While I am trying to understand the attitude that you and others are displaying toward the acquitted father I must admit that I feel the judge struck a blow for judicial sanity. We cannot always rely on the courts and legal system to teach society's lesson. I cannot imagine one parent thinking, "Gee, now I don't have to worry about looking after my child since they'll just let me off." The legal system should be about protecting society, not punishing or sending a message.

Marc Fisher: I agree that there's not a direct link--parents wouldn't read about this guy's conviction and say, "Goodness, I must now start caring about and protecting my child, whom I generally treat like an area rug." No, it is rather a matter of this case being just one piece in a complex quilt of public and private actions and expectations that form our social attitudes and govern our behaviors. By itself, this acquittal is not likely to lead to any deaths. But put together a bunch of such cases, and it becomes incrementally more likely for some parents to slack off on how closely they watch toddlers.

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Reston, Va.: I completely agree that Harrison should have been convicted, but I don't think jail would have been a reasonable punishment. I've often thought that in scenarios like this that there should be an alternative to jail like some kind of program where you're committed for three years to doing community service. You don't live at home, and you work in homeless shelters, or hospitals or somewhere that you can do some good for society to make up for your crime.

Marc Fisher: Sounds like a good solution that a smart judge would have seen as a way toward a fair outcome that still maintained the importance of enforcing the law.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm a foster parent, and I have to say, our society is one where you can commit horrifying offenses on your children and the state still preserves your rights to keep your children. The default goal in practically every situation where a child is removed from the home is "return to parents." I find this story not even slightly unusual. If the child had somehow survived, social services would right now be doing everything in their power to return his child to him.

Marc Fisher: Well, since I hear a lot from parents who have had overzealous social service agencies strip their kids away from them over utterly specious accusations of abuse or neglect, I'll have to say that it works both ways. There are lousy decisions at both ends of the spectrum. There is indeed an assumption in the law and in the system that kids are generally best off with their natural parents, and the system is rigged toward that result, but it probably should be, because many years of experience with a social engineering approach has shown poor results.

The problem too often is that you have poorly paid and poorly trained social service workers who out of fear or bureaucratic behavior act too literally and fail to reach an intimate enough understanding of each case to find the right way forward.

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Stereotyping: But in the neglect cases, the stereotype assumes a professional man has a good reason to "forget" his child, whereas a janitor doesn't. Which isn't true, we all have errands, fears, sickness, stress, rush. In fact, assuming the professional man's job IS more important is part of the disease that lead him to place his job above his kid's life.

Marc Fisher: Sounds right--perhaps in this case the judge would have come down harder on a mother, or on a poor person. Hard to say, but it's also hard to envision these same words coming from this same judge if you flipped the facts and had a mother doing what this guy did.

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Re: More on Bowling: No, I am not going. I might have gone if they held it at the Nats Park, which I think was considered. At least at the Nats Park I could go to the bar and have a couple of drinks during the game.

Marc Fisher: True, but can you play football at Nats Park? Is the field big enough to accommodate a gridiron? My guess is it would be a very tight fit, if it's even possible. And of course there are no bouncy seats, no movable sections to bring football fans closer to the action as there are at RFK.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc, just to show that this city isn't the only crazy city where people sue over dumb stuff -- here's a link showing the daughter of a judge convicted of intoxicated manslaughter of her boyfiriend is suing (among others) the driver of the truck she ran into. If our pants guy was in Texas, with a legal family like this, he might have had a chance.

Judge's daughter sues driver she ran into during crash Houston Chronicle, Dec. 18)

Marc Fisher: Thanks--looks like quite a story.

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Most parents simply cannot imagine ever being even close to making this kind of monstrous mistake. : I'm certain he couldn't imagine it either, had you asked the day before.

Marc Fisher: Well, but look at the evidence that was introduced at trial, about his previous behavior, leaving the boy in the car while he was conducting his errands. There was at least an argument by the prosecution that this event was not exactly a one-shot, that there was something of a pattern of failure to take proper care.

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Chicago, Ill.: I posted the earlier comment about "us" versus "them." The comments supporting acquittal sort of prove my point -- people are saying jail is unnecessary because the dad is already remorseful, he's already being punished, jail won't deter him or others like him, etc. That's just it -- they're putting themselves in his shoes and asking whether jail would have an impact on them in that condition.

But as you point out, Marc, that's not the only purpose of prison time. Society also has its own interest, independent of the dad, to see that certain behavior is punished and that certain wrongs merit consequences. That's why the dad needed a stronger stick to his carrot.

Marc Fisher: Right--that's why I often invite trouble here on the show by showing no particular sympathy for the interests of the victims in court proceedings. The criminal court exists to protect the interests of the wider society; it is not there as a private arm of particular individuals who are on the wrong end of a crime. Good judges keep in mind their obligation to maintaining standards of public behavior, even as they take care to protect the rights of those who come before them.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc...the regrettable suicide of Steve Posniak is somewhat analogous to the father's responsibility for the death of the child. He was either careless or negligent in setting that fire in Boundary Waters. Clearly, he was remorseful. How much of a book was being thrown at him? Was it disproportionate? This would benefit from looking into further, I'd think.

Marc Fisher: What a tragic story--I knew Posniak a bit when he was an advisory neighborhood commissioner and I lived in American University Park. He was a very dedicated public servant, if a bit of a zealot on some local issues. This forest fire case was just awful--he apparently did something that caused quite a lot of damage, and it's horrible to see a good person succumb to the overwhelming pressure of public humiliation and the prospect of punishment. I'm sure we don't know everything that was going on with him, but nonetheless a real tragedy.

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Bowling on a Baseball field: They use to play a bowl game at the San Francisco Giants baseball stadium. I remember it as a tight fit, but it seemed like a neat idea.

Marc Fisher: Right, but Candlestick was built as a dual-sport stadium so the Giants and 49ers could both play there. Nats Park was designed to be baseball-only, so the stands are much closer to the field than at those cookie-cutter bowl stadia such as RFK, Candlestick and Shea.

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Child in car case: What it's done for me is to have a conversation with my husband about how we're always going to remind each other of things. When we have a day where it's not the normal schedule, he'll call me to say "I dropped her off at day care." I don't think I'd actually forget I had my kid in the car with me, but when you are sleep- deprived and doing something not in your normal schedule, it is crazy what you forget.

I feel so sorry for the guy, think he should have gotten convicted, but no jail time. If it were me, honestly I think I'd kill myself.

Marc Fisher: Alas, he seems to have come to a similar conclusion--as the story said, he spent considerable time in a psychiatric hospital following the death.

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Baltimore, Md.: Conflating two Post stories from yesterday: The judge, and some commenters, seem to feel that because the dad who left his kid in the car will feel remorse for a lifetime, he's been punished enough. Interestingly, there was also a story yesterday about a man from NW D.C. who shot himself because he was facing charges for setting a fire in a national forest in Minnesota. He left a fire started to burn trash unattended, it burned thousands of acres and cost millions to put out. Someone quoted in the Post story -- and people who commented on it -- said that the government had grossly overcharged the guy because he obviously didn't mean to start the fire.

To me, both of these stories indicate how "touchy feely" we've become. If someone feels bad about what they have done -- as long as it falls short of firebombing an orphanage -- there are people who will say remorse is enough punishment.

washingtonpost.com: D.C. Man, 64, Charged in Fire Apparently Kills Himself The Post, Dec. 17)

Marc Fisher: Remorse should indeed be a factor in determining sentencing and punishment, but I don't think it should play much, if any, role in determination of guilt. There are sometimes reasons why an illegal act doesn't merit a conviction--there can be extenuating circumstances that make a crime less than what it first appears to be. But remorse that occurs after the event is something different--it should be considered in the context of how to rehabilitate a wrongdoer, not in the decision about what was done and why.

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Washington, D.C.: Any thoughts on the host of a morning show getting mugged outside a D.C. hotel?

Marc Fisher: News to me

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Baseball and bowling: It was the new park in San Fran, not the Stick.

Marc Fisher: Ah--interesting.

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Us v Them: Many of the comments in this chat depress me, but this idea of "us" v "them" is most disturbing. "We're not like them" has a really awful ring to it.

Marc Fisher: Quite true...we're out of time, so just a couple of last quick ones....

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Thinking it couldn't happen to us: Actually, I know 100 percent without any doubt, that if someone (known to me or a stranger) accidently killed me, I would not want them to be sent off to jail.

Marc Fisher: But again, with all respect, it shouldn't be about what you or any other victim might want--the decision should be about what's the right message and standard to uphold for the wider community.

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Arlington, Va.: The NEW Giants stadium, Marc. They also played a bowl game at the Padres (baseball only) field. And don't forget they used to play football in Yankee Stadium...

Marc Fisher: A huge and sprawling place, alas now gone...

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Convicting: People seem to love this idea of convicting without sentencing. Is that possible? Don't some convictions carry mandatory minimums?

Marc Fisher: Now you're getting into the evil of sentencing guidelines, which are the justice system's equivalent of zero tolerance rules--they sound great, but they're really dumb.

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Richmond, Va.: Maybe serving time in jail with hardened criminals would make the parent respect life more, make them more mindful of how precious and important being honored with molding a child's life is. Most hardened criminals had horrible parents, abusive, drunks, drug addicts. Maybe seeing what neglectful parenting does to society would help a neglectful parent repent.

Marc Fisher: Maybe, and maybe it would just put the guy over the edge in all the worst ways. That's why I'd favor a more creative sentencing approach.

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Re: Inaugural housing: Yeah, okay, I can see that houses in Virginia Square or Laurel aren't pulling too many takers. But how much do you think I could get for my lovely one-bedroom in Adams Morgan?

Marc Fisher: The ones that seem to go quickly are priced just a tad north of a fancy hotel room.

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Rentals during Inauguration: 15K for a week on the Orange Line seems a bit high but not outrageous. In the Twin Cities during the GOP convention people were renting out apts and condos anywhere from $2,000 to 10,000 for the week. Every hotel in the area was booked so it a simple case of supply and demand. If you can charge it go for it. Doncha just love capitalism.

Marc Fisher: Ok, but folks who think they're gonna get $20,000 for three nights in a mid-level apartment are in for a bit of disappointment.

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"We're not like them" has a really awful ring to it. : But I am NOT like a murderer. NEVER will be. I'm flawed, not perfect, but I do make a distinction between being an imperfect human, and being a person who'd choose to murder someone. I do know for a fact that I'll never make that choice. My us v. them isn't about class or salary, but basic moral choices. And I always choose to obey the law.

Marc Fisher: That's a very important distinction to make, and a good place to leave this discussion for now--though I bet you do sometimes disobey the law. You've never crossed a street in the middle of the block?

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Marc Fisher: That has to kick things in the head for today. Thanks to all for coming along and for some excellent discussion today.

The big holidays fall on the next two Thursdays, preempting our weekly gathering here. So we'll get back together again in three weeks, on January 8. Have a quiet and peaceful break if you can get some time off, and many thanks to each of you for joining me here and for reading the column and the blog. Happy New Year, all.

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