Good Punishment, Bad Punishment


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On Friday, the Cleveland Metroparks announced that they’d be taking over 26 acres of undeveloped land in Middleburg Hts through an EPA settlement with Scotts Miracle Gro.

The property, which will help protect Lake Abrams north of Bagley Road and Fowles marsh to the south, will be bought for $760,000. That entire sum will come from a grant created when Scotts mishandled pesticides and agreed to underwrite environmental projects. Cleveland Metroparks has reportedly been trying to obtain the land since 1994.

First of all: Great news for the Metroparks. Second of all: Doesn’t this make sense as far as penance and punishment are concerned? Doesn’t this seem, above all, awfully appropriate?

Scotts Miracle-Gro pays for a project directly related to the health of the thing it wreaked havoc upon — the environment. “Corporate Lawncare,” by way of punishment, funds “Public Lawncare.” There’s a symmetry to the justice which amplifies its effect.

Then there’s this:

Sabra Pierce Scott, the former Cleveland councilwoman who resigned with zero explanation in 2009 and pleaded guilty to bribery in 2011, was ordered to serve three years of probation (eight months of which will be under house arrest) in lieu of jail time. Scott is the first elected official in the massive corruption probe to be thus let off the hook.

In addition to the probation, Judge Christopher Boyko mandated that Scott teach 20 hours of ethics courses to high school or college students.

"I think young people should benefit from what you've gone through," Boyko told Scott during the hearing. "In the end, the only thing all of us take to our graves is our reputation. That is your give-back."

According to reports, Boyko considered the ethics classes to be the most important element of his sentence.


To recap: Scott accepted a $2,000 bribe from the scumbag Michael Forlani (who’s scheduled for sentencing on April 1) and foisted upon the contractor her son, who was looking for work. In exchange, Scott helped Forlani with the $125 million VA Medical Center project in University Circle, guiding legislation through council which helped Forlani buy land and secure lucrative financing and tax breaks.

There are a few related sociological arguments worth considering here — “Gender and Corruption: A Retribution Survey”; “The Context of Judicial Sympathy”; “Dollars and Years: The Logic (or lack thereof) of Prison Time vis-a-vis Bribery” — but for the purposes of this column, all I want to point out is that a councilwoman who was by all accounts really bad at ethics should under no circumstances be teaching ethics to young people.

Judge Boyko’s honorable but fundamental misunderstanding is that Sabra Pierce Scott rhapsodizing about professional good behavior will lack the power of the “reformed prisoner” genre because she won’t have had the opportunity to reform.

To be clear, 14 months in jail for accepting a $2,000 bribe seems excessive, especially in light of Scott’s colleagues’ exorbitance. Also, the fact that she’s obtained a Master’s degree and that her son was shot by Cleveland police two years ago make her a much more noble plaintiff.

But the fact is, she’s being shown rarified mercy. I’m willing to be persuaded that her resignation from council and subsequent pursuit of education signifies a reformation, though it’s not like she rent her garments and fled to the authorities with a confession. In retrospect, the resignation frankly smacked much more of escape, of getting out while she still could.

It’s also likely that her involvement in the scandal was by and large residual, that the dirty culture rubbed off on her in a sort of literal way. But what is she to say to high schoolers regarding ethics?

“Don’t become a crooked politician kiddies; if you get caught, you might have to teach these shitty classes some day.”

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