August 24, 2002 3:53 PM

A harsh look at how justice can fail us

It has been said that justice is blind. It has NEVER been said that justice is colorblind.

He drove his boat drunk. A friend fell off and died. He then lied to the cops about what happened. And after Sean Cooney received only a 30-day jail sentence and a $442 fine for all that, his lawyer said with a completely straight face, "I certainly don't think he was treated leniently."

The lawyer, Larry Kazan, then said of his client, the husband of TV news anchor Lin Sue Cooney and son of former TV station manager C.E. "Pep" Cooney: "If anything, I think he was treated a little more harshly."


I'll be sure and tell that to Franklin Powassin, a young Native American doing eight years in prison for the same kind of offense. Franklin and his best friend drank too much at a party, then drove off. Franklin was behind the wheel. When the car crashed, his friend, David Lewis, was thrown out and died. Franklin's biggest supporter is David's mom, Linda Lewis, who told me, "Frank was no more in the wrong than Cooney."

What about Anthony Tyrone Williams, a young African-American man who was driving drunk at 4am? Williams sped through an intersection, where he struck and killed Simon Garcia, who was in the intersection speaking on his cell phone. Williams is facing a second-degree murder charge.

What about Joshua Mazion, who is facing several years in prison for a crime similar to Cooney's? Mazion was driving a carload of friends. Alcohol was consumed, and an accident happened, severely injuring one of the passengers. Mazion's mother asks: "How is this different from what Sean Cooney did?" I'm not sure I have an answer to that question, because I'm not sure it IS different.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Crane McClennen thought there were similarities between the Williams case and the Cooney case. He wondered if Williams was being treated too harshly and talked about it critically in open court.

[Maricopa County Attorney Rick] Romley told me the judge's comments were "outrageous." Lawyers from his office later petitioned McClennen to remove himself from the case, which he did.

"There was a lot of pressure being put upon Judge McClennen and I understand why he recused himself," said Williams' attorney Greg Clark. "But I think it's a shame. I think he was only doing his job. Now there's talk of a judicial complaint being filed against him with the Supreme Court."....

Romley discussed the judge's remarks but wouldn't comment on any action he might take. If I were defending Judge McClennen against such a complaint, however, I might ask why it's so bad for a judge to question the methods and motives of prosecutors. Isn't it worse when they don't question such things? I might wonder out loud if this particular judge was being singled out because of the notoriety of the case.

And what exactly is Judge McClennen guilty of? If asking a sensible question about the relative merits of each case, and the charges levied, is an impeachable offense, I suppose you could throw the book at McClennen. Still, one has to wonder why a judge shouldn't be able to question the inconsistencies of the judicial process. This is particularly true when you consider that Sean Cooney is a wealthy, well-connected white man, and Williams, Mazion, and Powassin are not.

It would be simplistic to state that race is the only issue at work here. Still, on a circumstantial level, this is all extremely disturbing. Would Cooney have been treated differently were he not married to a highly visible TV anchorwoman (Lin Sue Cooney) and the son of a TV station manager (C.E. "Pep" Cooney)? There is no way to definitively know the answer to that question, but it does make one wonder. Sure, justice is blind, but clearly it's NOT colorblind. And THIS is an example of how our criminal justice system can fail ALL of us- black, white, red, or brown.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on August 24, 2002 3:53 PM.

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