Judge was not coddled Navy's quarterback was

Comment

June 28, 1998|By BRIAN SULLAM

MANY PEOPLE think that Prince George's Circuit Court Judge Larnzell Martin Jr. and Navy quarterback Chris McCoy were able to get away with breaking the rules.

Their cases illustrate how conflicted we have become about crimes and punishment.

Judge Martin was charged with a variety of misdemeanor sex offenses -- indecent exposure and groping an undercover police officer -- after he was caught in a police sting in the men's room of Hecht's department store in the Annapolis Mall.

His case was "stetted," or put on the inactive docket. This means as long as the judge behaves himself, the state's attorney won't prosecute the case. After two years, the case will be expunged from the records.

Mr. McCoy, meanwhile, is one of four midshipmen who were investigated on charges of fraternization and having sex with academy classmates. Three others, including the woman Mr. McCoy dated and slept with, were expelled. Mr. McCoy, a star quarterback for Navy's football team, was allowed to graduate.

Taking care of its own?

Judging from reader response, many are outraged that Judge Martin was not prosecuted. They believe he is "getting away" with something, that the criminal justice system is taking care of him because he is a judge.

It would have been out of the ordinary to have prosecuted Judge Martin. In similar cases involving first offenders, local prosecutors either place the case on the inactive docket or accept a ruling of probation before judgment.

Also, Larnzell Martin is not getting away scot-free. He faces investigations by the Maryland Bar Association and the Commission on Judicial Disabilities. He could well lose his job, a severe punishment by any standard.

It is natural to say that Mr. Martin occupies a position of trust and therefore should set an example. But singling him out for extraordinary treatment, including harsher than normal, would violate the principle that all defendants are equal before the law.

Not equal before the law

It's precisely that fundamental tenet the Naval Academy seems to have violated in the case of Mr. McCoy. It appears that the academy's top administrators are treating him differently because he is a sports hero.

(Why athletes routinely receive special treatment puzzles me. Had the academy's Rhodes Scholar violated similar rules, would he have received such a break? I don't think so.)

Felicia Harris, Kevin McGlathery and Aaron Smith have left the RTC academy for violating rules prohibiting sex at Bancroft Hall, the midshipmen dormitory, or even dating among students there.

Ms. Harris and Mr. Smith's expulsion orders await final approval from the secretary of the Navy. Mr. McGlathery resigned before he was expelled.

Mr. McCoy's engaged in the same behavior and was found guilty of five "major" violations under the school's conduct code. Nevertheless, administrators decided not to punish him as severely. He lost some of his liberties and privileges, but Mr. McCoy received his degree and a commission in the Navy.

Where did sex take place?

Citing privacy rules, academy officials aren't discussing the case. But judging from the results, they seem to have made distinctions based on where the sex took place.

Ms. Harris, a plebe or freshman, admits to having dated and slept with the three midshipmen. Apparently, Ms. Harris' liaisons with Mr. Smith and Mr. McGlathery took place on academy grounds. Mr. McCoy and Ms. Harris rented a hotel room, she said.

Sex on campus is considered to be the equivalent of sex aboard a ship. In the Navy, such activity is considered a cardinal sin.

That still doesn't explain why Mr. McCoy, a senior, wasn't punished for fraternizing with a plebe, normally an expellable offense.

Do Mr. McCoy's gridiron accomplishments -- which include establishing the academy record of 43 touchdowns and defeating the Army football team for the first time in five years -- entitle him to preferential treatment?

The obvious inequities of the punishment are difficult to reconcile with the offenses.

Ms. Harris, Mr. McGlathery and Mr. Smith will have to find other schools to finish their educations. Mr. Smith, a junior, will have to pay back $67,000, the cost of his taxpayer-subsidized academy education.

Two years and out

Mr. McCoy, on the other hand, is asking the Navy to reduce his five-year obligation to two so that he can play professional football with the Green Bay Packers.

If the academy wants to discourage consensual sex among the midshipmen, equal punishment must be meted out to all. Otherwise, current or future midshipmen are likely to assume that the rules for them and the rest of the brigade are much different from those for academy quarterbacks.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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