Ralph Benko: President Trump, Do Justice for the Imprisoned Steve Stockman


Mr. President? A potentially fatal miscarriage of justice for former Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, among others, is occurring. You, sir, uniquely are in a position to see that justice is done. Exercise the powers of your office.

I just signed a letter for conservative leaders calling for clemency for at-risk nonviolent offenders including Stockman. Stockman, who I knew slightly and liked greatly before he left office, is a conservative firebrand. He is a flamboyant, sometimes over-the-top, dude.

He is far to even my right. That isn’t easy. I’ve been told that I’m to the right of Genghis Khan.

Stockman is now serving a 10-year sentence for misusing some charitable contributions for personal and political purposes. I am not here to relitigate his guilt or innocence after what The Texas Tribune called “a bizarre, weeks-long criminal trial” that “included hot air balloon rides, kennel bills and several purchases from one of those once-ubiquitous SkyMall catalogues — not to mention a new dishwasher, a pricey New Orleans hotel, flights to Africa, rehabilitation for alcoholism, an undercover intern and a trip to Disneyland.”

I am here to state that Steve Stockman’s 10-year sentence is painfully excessive and unjust. Some insist that the prosecution of Stockman was politically motivated. Not me. OK, Stockman was a political maverick who nettled the establishment. Among other mercurial acts he gave up a safe congressional seat to primary the politically invincible (and, in my view, admirable) Sen. John Cornyn.

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Stockman was buried by more of an avalanche than a landslide. That loss at the ballot box is a punishment befitting his eccentricity. A decade behind bars does not do him, or America, justice. No Bernie Madoff, he.

I do not cast aspersions on the motives of Stockman’s prosecutors. My concern? Per Statista, Stockman’s sentence is longer than the average time served for violent felonies. That’s an injustice. And now the pandemic is putting prisoners with comorbidities, like Stockman, at risk of death.

Death by pandemic does not serve justice. Justice is best served tempered with a dash of mercy. The Texas Tribune reported that “Ryan Patrick, the new U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas and the son of Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, was in the courtroom for the verdict.”

“‘When public officials use their office to defraud donors and violate federal law, we will hold them accountable,’ Patrick said in a statement Thursday afternoon. ‘Corrupt officials like former congressman Stockman make it harder for the honest ones to do their jobs.’”

Yes. Let justice be done. That said, a 10-year sentence is wildly excessive. It does not serve justice.

H.L. Mencken writes in “Notes on Democracy”:

“I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. Does it exalt dunderheads, cowards, trimmers, frauds, cads? Then the pain of seeing them go up is balanced and obliterated by the joy of seeing them come down. Is it inordinately wasteful, extravagant, dishonest? Then so is every other form of government: all alike are enemies to laborious and virtuous men. Is rascality at the very heart of it? Well, we have borne that rascality since 1776, and continue to survive. In the long run, it may turn out that rascality is necessary to human government, and even to civilization itself.”

Even if Steve Stockman were guilty of aggravated rascality – for which he was not convicted – a 10-year sentence is wildly excessive. Putting Stockman, and other nonviolent offenders, at risk of death by pandemic is horrific. It does not service justice.

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Anatole France once ironically observed, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

To be worthy of the name law, law must always be conjoined with justice. Ten years — and, now, the real threat of death by pandemic — does not serve justice.

Do you think President Trump should commute Stockman's sentence?

Mr. President? You recently said on declaring an end to social distancing: “Couldn’t it lead to death? Staying at home leads to death also, and it’s very traumatic for this country. Staying at home, if you look at numbers, that leads to a different kind of death, perhaps, but it leads to death also.”

“I’m going to have to make a decision, and I only hope to God it’s the right decision. But I would say, without question, it’s the biggest decision that I’ve ever had to make.”

Releasing Steve Stockman, if only to house arrest (although preferably by commuting his sentence along with those of other vulnerable nonviolent prisoners) is the right thing to do. It would temper justice with mercy.

Seek the advice of your counselor Ivanka Trump on the biggest decision of your life. Surely she will counsel mercy. Then send that lovable rascal Steve Stockman, together with other nonviolent offenders, home and out of harm’s way.

That is how to serve justice.

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