Hats off this morning to Stanley Y. Bennett, a District Court judge in Frederick, Md., who understands that sentences don't always have to be meted out by the book.
Bennett handed down one of the cleverer punishments of 1981 last Nov. 17 in the case of Eric Scace, a telecommunications engineer who lives in Frederick.
Scace was arrested in downtown Frederick on Oct. 13 and charged with violating a super-obscure section of the state's traffic law. The section makes it illegal for a motorist to transport an object on top of his car if the object extends more than six inches beyond the car's frame on the passenger side, or if it extends at all beyond the car's frame on the driver's side.
When Scace was arrested, he was carrying an aluminum ham radio antenna, dismantled into about 30 pieces, on top of his Volkswagen Rabbit. Scace does not deny that the antenna pieces extended about a foot and a half beyond each side of his car.
Bennett could have fined Scace $30. Instead, he placed him on unsupervised probation for two months on one condition:
Scace had to find 25 licensed Maryland drivers, tell each of them about the obscure law and submit their names and license numbers to Bennett. By placing a memo on the bulletin board of his Tysons Corner office, Scace easily came up with 24 names.
The 25th? A Maryland motorist named Stanley Y. Bennett. Before he dismissed Scace on Nov. 17, the judge proved his good humor in yet another way by agreeing to serve as the last name on Scace's list.
"The reason I chose this kind of sentence is that he was violating the law primarily because of his lack of knowledge," Bennett explained.
"Even though the officer was correct in making the stop, the facts indicate there wasn't any great danger. Rather than having this man's record blemished, I prefer to dispense this information to other people.
"Most people that come before me need the stick rather than the carrot, I grant you," Bennett said. "And in cases like this, you have to be careful that the community doesn't think you're not dispensing justice. But I felt that the law in this case was little enough known that my sentence was within the realm of practicality."
It was indeed, judge. Thanks for understanding that the object of justice is to do what's fair and what's effective, not necessarily what the print in some lawbook suggests.