A JUST SENTENCE, FOR MANY REASONS
Our take, from Kevin Richert’s column: Former state Sen. John McGee was a repeat offender who abused his office and violated the bounds of workplace decency. He deserved the no-nonsense sentence handed down by Magistrate Judge James Cawthon.
Cheers … to Cawthon, of Boise. How many ways did Cawthon get the case of former state Sen. John McGee right?
In a bizarre Father’s Day 2011 escapade, McGee got blind drunk, stole and damaged a sport utility vehicle and trailer and fell asleep in the back. A felony grand theft charge disappeared after McGee cut a restitution check, and he was allowed to plead guilty to drunken driving. He retained his Senate majority caucus chairman post and never came clean with his constituents.
Then, amid cryptic descriptions that he sexually harassed a Senate staffer, McGee stepped down from office in February. Eventually, Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower filed a nondescript disturbing the peace charge.
As he walked into Cawthon’s chambers Tuesday, McGee expected to do five days in jail, the deal Bower’s office struck with his own attorney.
Until Cawthon spoke.
Locking a young female staffer in his Senate office, using graphic language to demand inappropriate sexual conduct, swearing her to secrecy and then subjecting her to a barrage of sexual innuendo is not “playing music too loud,” the judge said.
It was a violation of a public trust. “This new offense happened … in your role as an Idaho state senator. It happened at the Capitol,” Cawthon said.
And would anyone else who escaped a felony conviction and jail time just a year earlier — and was still on probation — draw a lenient five-day sentence?
“You talked about what lessons you were going to teach your children because of what happened,” recalled Cawthon, who said he was “floored” to see McGee back in court.
So off to jail McGee went — 44 days for the new offense and 44 more for breaking probation.
KATY BENOIT’S LASTING LEGACY
Moscow-Pullman Daily News
On the University of Idaho campus last week, a bench was dedicated on the lawn near the UI Administration Building to the memory of Katy Benoit. She was a UI graduate from Boise, shot and killed at her off-campus apartment last year by her fired professor and estranged lover, Ernesto Bustamante. He committed suicide hours later.
The bench is only a reminder of what her parents spent the last year fighting for, a battle we hope they have won.
Janet Benoit, Katy’s mother, spoke on campus Tuesday of reconciliation: “Our journey is now one of healing. It’s one of continuing to care, it’s of forgiveness, it’s of going forward with the lessons that she taught us and remembering what she brought to the world.”
They sued the university seeking its recognition of and commitment to more education of students, faculty and staff about how vulnerable students are to the attentions of charismatic faculty members. The university agreed.
While neither a new phenomenon nor limited to academia, issues of sexual harassment and the hostile workplace are less tolerated today than ever before, legally, ethically and morally.
We hope the education programs that the university is planning are aimed not just at students. We hope they also deal with the responsibilities of faculty and staff. And by that we mean not just their responsibility to not harass or seduce students themselves, but to take some responsibility for the actions of those faculty and staff they supervise. For that matter, the classes should deal with how to deflect an inappropriate approach by a student.
After the Benoit-Bustamante incident last year, university administrators began to hear a constant stream of concern from students about other such relationships that had the potential for harmful, if not disastrous, consequences.
The university must learn to encourage and deal with these reports in a timely, constructive and effective way, without denial, without fear and with overriding concern in each case for the student’s welfare.