MANSFIELD: Judge Gaul Has a Lot of Gall

OK, I couldn’t stop myself from using this smarmy rhyming title, but the truth is, Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul really does sometimes engage in behavior that is galling. This time he granted early release to a former high-powered Washington, D.C. lawyer who was convicted of molesting a child, in spite of the protestations of the victim’s family members and an assistant county prosecutor.

Justin Torres was convicted of repeatedly molested an 11-year-old Fairview Park boy while he was visiting the child’s family, but Gaul thought that the 44-year-old attorney should only serve six months of his three-year sentence.

“We can’t recreate the past for this defendant or the young man who is the victim in this case. We’d like it if we could, but we can’t,” Gaul said from his perch on the bench. “We just have to move forward, and people have got to heal and move forward with their lives.” That’s easy for him to say since it wasn’t his child that was molested.

The child’s family, the Fairview Park police detective who led the investigation, and a local chapter of the Bikers Against Child Abuse motorcycle club all packed the courtroom and bravely sat stone-faced and silent as the travesty unfolded.

Gaul ordered Torres to wear a GPS monitor and have no unsupervised contact with children other than his own once he is released and put him on probation for five years, merely perfunctory requirements placed on all convicted sex offenders. Additionally, Torres will be required to meet other requirements set forth by law, but again, such measures are simply standard requirements, not to be confused with the dispensing of any kind of real justice.

Actually, I honestly believe that most sentences handed down in American courtrooms are too harsh, and I further believe that our system of jurisprudence got so draconian due to the fact that many of our laws were placed on the books right after the Civil War and during the Jim Crow era, primarily to punish newly freed blacks. But whites oftentime need not worry; disparities in sentences between blacks and whites (a well-documented fact) make sure they often escape the full brunt of such laws.

Still, I don’t believe that Torres should have served the entire three-year sentence — 18 months probably would have been fair. But fairness — at least to the victim and his family — seemingly was not a consideration in this case. The assistant county prosecutor who handled the case, Steve Szelagiewicz, said that letting Torres out of prison would be “ridiculous.” But Gaul, over the protestations of the child’s family members, said that he wasn’t giving Torres special treatment because of his job title or salary. No one in the courtroom believed him; how could they given the facts of the case?

Indeed, based on how Gaul normally treats defendants, if this molester had been an auto mechanic or bus driver of any race the chances of him being granted early release would have been virtually non-existent. Disparities can be class as well as race-based. Judge Gaul twisted the law into a pretzel for a fellow lawyer who once had status in the profession, and did so without any shame, remorse or consideration for the victim. The only good thing is after this current term concludes this so-called jurist will be too old to run again. Thank God.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.

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