State of Alaska v. Meghan Simon, Part 3
This is the last of a three part post on WC’s long adventure with the Alaska criminal justice system in State of Alaska v. Meghan Simon. It’s a story with an ugly beginning, very serious crimes, protracted delay and no closure. It’s also a serious criticism of the system.
Dealing with the Denouement
WC went through courthouse security immediately behind Meghan Simon. She wasn’t pretending to be 20 any more. Her hair was back to a natural color and she was wearing little if any makeup. WC said nothing; Simon looked intensely uncomfortable.
In the courtroom, WC was invited to sit in the jury box and give a victim statement. WC admits he has been better prepared for most hearings than he was there. But WC was able to explain that his mother, a few months before her death, had been able to meet her great-granddaughter. The child was born profoundly deaf. She wanted her estate to go to her great-granddaughter. In point of fact, then, Meghan Simon had stolen money from a young deaf child. WC said he understood a plea bargain had probably been struck. WC said he hoped it contained two things: (1) a permanent, public record of what Simon had done, so that anyone hiring her to work with the elderly or disabled in the future would have an opportunity to know what she was capable of doing; and (2) restitution to WC’s deaf grand-niece. Jail time would be desirable, to show Simon it was serious, but not so long as to interfere with restitution.
And then Simon changed her plea. Or started to. A short way through the series of questions required for a change of plea, Simon attempted to change her mind. Her attorney, an Assistant Public Advocate, asked for a brief recess. They retired to a conference room and came out a few minutes later and Simon proceeded with the change of plea. Understand, she plead to just one count of theft; nineteen counts of forgery and one count of driving under the influence, only indirectly related to WC’s story, were all dismissed. A sweetheart deal, even apart from the sentence. And yet she got cold feet.
The Alaska Supreme Court has set a long series of requirements for changes of plea, largely because criminal defendants have tried to change their minds later. The result is a tedious list of requirements. Simon sobbed through most of it. When asked if she had a statement to make before sentence was imposed, she barely got out an apology and a statement that WC didn’t need to worry, that WC was going to get all his money back.
And then sentence was imposed. No jail time. Thirty days of electronic monitoring, starting April 25. Suspended imposition of sentence for three years, meaning if she stays out of trouble, cooperates with her parole officer, and – this is the important part – makes restitution, then in three years she’s through with the sentence and doesn’t face jail time.
If she fails to meet the conditions, then the judge can impose another, harsher sentence on her. And even if she meets all the requirements, the conviction remains of record.
In a sense, Simon walked with a gentle slap on the wrist. She stole money from a helpless old lady who had been entrusted to her care. It’s a despicable crime. At least 25 times. But only had to plead to having done it once. WC’s brother has a hard time with that.
In a sense, Simon’s sentence is a joke. She has to wear a bracelet for a month, be good for three years, and pay back some monies. There’s not a lot of punishment there. Thirty days in jail might have reinforced the message, “Thou shalt not steal.” Both WC and WC’s brother have a hard time with that.
But at a more practical level, if Simon is in the slammer she can’t make restitution. Alaska jails are badly overcrowded. We house prisoners in Arizona and Colorado. It’s very expensive.
And at the most practical level, Simon is not going to be able to make restitution. The IRS will come to audit, because it’s guaranteed she didn’t report the money she stole as income in 2009. Shucks, WC may turn her in for the reward program. That will certainly impair her ability to repay. The IRS is an elephant and, to paraphrase Kipling, “Where Hathi the Elephant gleans there is no need to follow.” Simon has very few marketable skills, and a felony conviction makes you unemployable in most circumstances. So in three years – well, more likely four, given the speed with which the District Attorney acts – we’ll be back in superior court.
As WC walked out of the Rabinowitz Courthouse, the Assistant District Attorney muttered, “Sorry it took so long.” WC realized that was the closest thing he would get to an apology from anyone.
Can We Talk About Justice?
WC has been a lawyer too long to expect real justice. The American justice system may be among the best in the world, but it is far, far from perfect. Further than it needs to be. Any government system is composed of people, and WC is unpersuaded the State of Alaska is being well-served.
The “Victim/Witness Paralegal II” could be replaced with a phone messaging system and the process of getting information to victims and witnesses would be greatly improved, and no more impersonal. If that employee were in WC’s law office, the position would be terminated.
The Assistant District Attorney needs to stand before the chalkboard and write, “I will not permit unnecessary delay” one thousand times. And then take a course in workload management.
The District Attorney needs to increase pressure on his staff to get cases to trial. It’s not just a matter of justice delayed being justice denied. Although there’s more than a bit of truth in that. There’s a speedy trial rule for a reason. Speaking as a victim, it is intensely frustrating to go through the emotional roller coaster over and over and over.
The superior court judges need to clamp down on the endless continuances. They are the guys – and it is all guys in the Fourth Judicial District – who hold the authority. Until they act, WC isn’t optimistic about improvement.
And if Alaska’s Attorney General has made it this far, he can feel free to give WC a call if he has any questions.