Another Perspective

Novus Decisis

In a shocking display, a D.C. judge actually enforces the law.

By 8.28.06

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Just a couple of blocks from the White House, the shots were heard by the Secret Service officers on duty. Two shots. Somebody hailed police and described the vehicle they came from and, before long, the cops had pulled over a Range Rover SUV registered to Lonny Baxter. Inside were a couple of spent shell casings and a 40-caliber Glock Baxter would say he had bought in Texas.

But look, Baxter was a known basketball star who had led his Maryland Terrapins to the national championship in 2002. True, he had knocked around with some NBA teams since, was still shy of his college degree at 27, but he was still pursuing that and was about to leave for Italy and another start. Also true, Baxter had fired a shotgun in 2004 in his D.C. condominium and had gotten probation on a misdemeanor charge for that.

His former Maryland coach, Gary Williams, appeared in court in person to vouch for him in this Glock case and it looked like a boat race. The Assistant U. S. Attorney Brandi Garcia had decided to defer any felony charges and recommended to the presiding judge that defendant Baxter be allowed to move on after pleading to a pair of lesser charges -- possession of an unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition. There was even a message to Garcia, from Baxter's prospective manager in Italy, offering to keep the court informed of the 6 foot 8 inch player's conduct on and off the court in Italy. Baxter himself, who had majored in criminal justice and criminology at Maryland, told the judge he wanted to apologize to the court, to the District of Columbia, and to his family for what he called a "careless, stupid act."

The inside pages are filled with stories of judicial restraint; the judge who let a guy off because he was too small and defenseless to send to mean old prison, the judges beyond number who have somehow allowed child predators to continue their pursuits unfettered save the postings of occasional bonds, judges who reverse jury findings on technicalities. So, with the recommendation of the U. S. Attorney's office, the vouchsafes of coach Williams, and the prospects of a fresh start in Italy, would it not be routine for Judge Craig Iscoe to go along?

Judge Iscoe offered that Baxter had been given a "great break" in deferral of the felony charge. Oh, oh. But his honor said he couldn't be so lenient on the two misdemeanors to which there were guilty pleas. Nine months, he declared, with all but 60 days suspended, probation for 18 months, a $2,000 fine and 100 hours of community service.

Within the 60 days to be served, the Italian roundball season will have opened. "I have to consider," said the Judge, "not only your desire that your punishment not interfere with your basketball career but my responsibility to the citizens of the District of Columbia."

The District, it should be said, is under a declared state of "crime emergency," what with curfews and extra police patrols, yet a string of unsolved youthful murders is being added to with dribbling regularity.

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About the Author

Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.