Friday, November 28, 2014

A Judge can have the power to save a kid

I read with interest the guest column by Adam Tebrugge of Nov. 25. I thought the timing could not have been better than to print the article the day after the passing of Judge Lynn Silvertooth.
Speaking from personal experience, I know Judge Silvertooth was a compassionate person who saw no need to ruin the life of a young man because of indiscretions and bad decisions.
The judge saw the wisdom in alternatives to incarceration. Were he on the bench today, he would have embraced the Teen Court, Drug Court, Veterans Court, and the Selah Freedom organization for the ways they have worked to reinstate judicial discretion and move away from mandatory minimums that the Florida statutes have imposed upon our courts.
Mandatory minimums have done more harm than good. Taking discretion away from the courts has caused many young people to be cast aside, denied opportunities, even cheated out of the opportunity to serve in our military. The military gave so many of us the opportunity and time necessary for us to grow up, earn the GI Bill, get an education and become responsible citizens -- the time to learn to manage our money, learn discipline, learn a skill, and serve our country.
Mandatory minimums have left our law enforcement agencies trying to find a diverse work force to serve minority or ethnic neighborhoods, because of felony convictions imposed. In the past Judge Silvertooth and other judges like him would have found a way to "save the kid," instead of "sentence the kid."

It is a shame we will never have more judges with the opportunities that Judge Silvertooth had to save kids. Others like Katie Self, Judge Lee Haworth and Carolyn Mason keep trying, but until our Legislature has the courage to ignore the potential fears of the "soft on crime" mailers that others may use against them, we will continue arresting and sentencing young men and women for smoking a bit of marijuana, or just raising hell like I did.
Judge Silvertooth will be missed by all for his compassion and true understanding of justice. I will always remember the man who called me into his office and gave me a chance instead of being the judge who would have had his hands tied by a system that is destined to ruin so many lives.
Your headline was correct: "Judge's reputation was legendary."

Michael S. Bennett, a former state senator, is the supervisor of elections for Manatee County.

No comments: