It again puts L.A. in the center of a controversy involving a “celebrity” and the criminal system. What is it that makes the whole world more interested in LA story, than learning about what our leaders are doing in the G-8 Summit and its impact to our everyday lives? Don’t get me wrong, I am just like everybody—I put aside reading the magazines that require thinking like the Economist or Fortune and will get my “fix” of the stories in US Weekly or People. I even found myself checking out what TMZ.com is all about—guess what, it is all about celebrities—who they are dating, where they are eating and which local LA Starbucks they are coming from.
As a neighbor of Paris Hilton commented, “I think the whole world has descended on our neighborhood. What is my life going to be like for the next 40 days? It’s like the age of superficiality. (emphasis added) I don’t think we have descended to this level but I do find it interesting that everyone has an opinion whether this person who gained so much money and fame for being a professional party girl is being treated better or worse that any “criminal” in LA.
FROM A TAXPAYER’S POINT OF VIEW
An inmate incarcerated in LA jails costs approximately $30,000 a year in contrast to the $14,000 to educate our grade school children. It costs approximately $5,000 a day to pay the salaries of a judge, a prosecutor, a public defender, a bailiff, a court clerk and all the other participants to maintain a criminal court in LA. This case, including her underlying crime of DUI—from the arrest to her present incarceration, have cost taxpayers thousands of dollars and still climbing.
Two law enforcement agencies, LAPD and LASD, have been extensively used in patrolling her home, transporting her to jail and court, and all the miscellaneous “policing” required to maintain security. Medical staff at Twin Towers are now being used to treat her undisclosed “medical” condition. With both agencies lacking appropriate staffing level—what area is being neglected because they are all so busy making sure she is safe?
I have watched news organization comment about the validity of Sheriff Baca’s release of Ms. Hilton and if overcrowding was the reason. Anybody who is intricately involved in the LA criminal system is well aware that this is the so called “benefit” of being arrested in LA. Many defendants with their defense attorney’s consent, would rather be sentenced to County Jail (CJ) unlike doing “hard” labor like Cal-trans (CT). Unlike CJ, where early release is likely, CT requires a defendant to do full time—if the judge orders 30 days of CT, you will do 30 CT but if the judge orders 30 CJ (depending on the crime), you will likely do 2 days.
Ms. Hilton blatantly violated her probation, but this offense, at least in the real world of LA criminal justice system is regulatory and considered a non-violent crime. As one former LA prosecutor, Decio Rangel, points out to ABC News, “Ms. Hilton is benefiting from what many people are benefiting from which is overcrowding of the LA jails.”
There are many unreported stories of the early release of defendants with horrible criminal records and have committed a violent crime but are being released by the Sheriff’s Department for lack of space. Is it right? Probably not, but the system has long been recognized as needing an overhaul. The “Feds” continue to scrutinize LA overcrowding issue and have threatened to take over the system.
ALTERNATIVE TO JAIL
I have worked as a prosecutor at the court-at-issue, Metropolitan Court in downtown LA and familiar with Judge Sauer. I am also keenly aware of the importance of diplomacy in working with prosecutors and the judge in equitably and reasonably disposing of a case. I know a “full-blown” probation hearing was conducted in Ms. Hilton’s case. By the way, this too is a rarity—usually both sides come to some sort of an agreement without having to “waste” valuable court time.
I am not privy to the court transcripts or negotiations between the city attorney and defense, but many in the criminal system circles in LA with whom I have discussed this all conclude that this circus should not have occurred. I understand the public’s outcry of the perception that this rich girl is getting preferential treatment. If that is the case and the judge and prosecutor thinks that she should be taught a “lesson”, what is wrong with the alternatives?
Such alternatives would be community service (CS) or CT where there is no such thing as credits for good behavior or early release. As a defense attorney and as a prior prosecutor, I have agreed to such a sentence if it is a non-violent crime (no use of guns or injury to human) and no criminal record. She fits this bill. How about sentencing her to do CS for 960 hours (which is equivalent to 40 days of jail) in an inner-city facility working for underprivileged children or with the elderly? At least my taxpayer’s monies are not going to pay for her and she will instead give back to the community. In the best scenario, she will hopefully learn to understand that not everyone live the way she does.
Or CT—Naomi Campbell (another “celebrity”) just did it and her crime was battery. Picking up trash, cleaning public parks, beaches and facilities requires defendant to work a full 8 hour day and pay to participate. Again, the community benefits from this type of sentencing. Why was this type of resolution not ordered? I don’t know but I wish it was—then I don’t have to listen to the daily barrage of Ms. Hilton’s stay or lack thereof in jail.
WHERE ARE THE SANE MINDS?
It is the primarily the duty of a judge and the prosecutor to insure the credibility and respect of the criminal system remains intact. Again, this could just be gossip and clearly unsubstantiated. But I hear that Judge Sauer was surfing the web—checking TMZ.com of Ms. Hilton’s daily status in jail. It has also been reported that City Attorney Delgadillo’s wife was just ordered to pay $186 plus penalties and fines for driving while her privileges were suspended. Of course, her underlying crime was not a DUI.
The question whether celebrities, especially those that live in the entertainment capital of the world—LA—get preferential treatment? Of course! First of all, the court personnel are immediately on notice that this will be a high profile case. Since we are all interested in the lives of the stars and work in the courts without the world watching, when something like this happens, reasonable minds seems to be non-existent or even disappear.
But I call for us to move on and we will. The graver world issues require it!