Court hearings are often among the most-emotional events that I cover. The loss of life due to a criminal act often generates anger, passion and grief that gets brought up again and again with each hearing. The ante is increased now that the State requires victims, survivors and family members to get their say in the courtroom.
That emotion can spill over to the judges themselves. Many a judge has handed down “angry sentences” to defendants that have show no effort to live within the law or who show no remorse for their actions. But Brown County Judge William Atkinson let his emotions go too far in a sentencing hearing yesterday for a drunk driver that killed a mother and a daughter. Atkinson actually broke down into tears while sentencing David Meyer to ten years in prison and ten years on extended supervision. Atkinson talked about what it would be like to lose his own wife and daughter and then made a comment about how he would “never give a dollar to the alcohol industry”.
I take great exception to Judge Atkinson’s assertion that Miller-Coors or Jack Daniels distillery are somehow to blame for Meyer’s actions. Dozens of people attended the same golf outing as Meyer and they didn’t get hammered and drive and kill two people. They enjoyed a legal product responsibly. Just like millions of other Americans did on that same day. David Meyer decided to drink to excess, David Meyer choose to drive when he had to know that he was well beyond the legal limit, and David Meyer is the one that struck those two women walking along the side of the road. David Meyer alone is responsible for their deaths.
It would be interesting to sit in Judge Atkinson’s courtroom for a few days to see if he blames gun manufacturers for shootings and armed robberies, cutlery makers for stabbings, automobile manufacturers for reckless driving deaths, and pharmaceutical companies for painkiller overdoses. If the Judge is being consistent about not spending money on things he believes are responsible” for killings, he would never go hunting, he would be cutting his steak with a spoon, he would be walking everywhere and he would be facing a very painful recovery from a serious injury or surgery.
If Judge Atkinson wants to be a teetotaler and miss out on enjoying delicious melted beverages and distilled spirits in moderation–that is his prerogative. But don’t give those who make the free will choice to abuse such products and kill or injure others something besides themselves to blame.