ALEXANDRIA Circuit Court Judge Lewis D. Morris suspected that questions would be raised about his action, and he was right. On Monday, the judge reduced a sentence he had imposed two years ago on Edward Forman, a former lawyer who had pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling $740,000. The original sentence, for crimes that could have sent Mr. Forman to prison for 45 years, was 4,500 hours of community service. Now, Judge Morris has lopped 525 hours off that obligation even though he "realized a lot of judges would have sent him to the penitentiary."
The leniency of the original sentence, let alone the reduced one, is apparent. Community service for the theft of three-quarters of a million dollars is simply not just, as prosecutor Richard Mendelson pointed out. But there's more. At the hearing this week, Judge Morris revealed that he has known the defendant for a long time. They were, in fact, at George Washington University Law School together. A prudent jurist would have removed himself from such a case immediately. The lenient sentence only strengthens the appearance of impropriety.
And why wasn't restitution ordered? Only one of Mr. Forman's former clients got any money back, and it was only $16,500. A lenient penalty is always more acceptable if those who have been injured are made whole. Few of us could sit down and write a check for $740,000, and undoubtedly Mr. Forman didn't have that kind of cash in a cookie jar. But a man who has practiced real estate law for decades probably has a few assets and certainly has the ability to make restitution out of future earnings.
There may be a reason why the judge thought it unnecessary to order restitution for all the victims of this fraud. Perhaps he agreed with the embezzler who dismissed his crime with this arrogant statement: "The public suffered no loss. They didn't lose a penny. It was the title company (that lost money)." This is the same mentality that rationalizes, "I didn't steal this from anyone, I just took it off the counter at Woodie's." The idea that theft from a corporation or an insurance company is a victimless crime is patently wrong; those losses are passed along to customers who buy a company's product. In civil cases, judgments against companies, insured professionals and governments have broad impact, including increased medical costs, rising taxes and the loss of insurance protection for whole industries. Eventually, we all absorb these costs. In Mr. Forman's case, even worse because the losses did not involve a compensation for injury but a deliberate theft, there were most certainly victims, and they have not been vindicated by the court's judgment.