The Oregon Supreme Court was right to censure Jackson County Circuit Judge Tim Barnack for making inappropriate remarks from the bench while sentencing a convicted pedophile. Barnack has accepted the censure and taken steps to prevent a recurrence, showing that he understands his behavior crossed the line. Local residents who have spoken up in his defense should understand it, too.
Barnack made the remarks last January while sentencing Richard Lee Taylor, 60, to 21 life sentences without possibility of parole for multiple sex offenses involving children. His victims in this case were two 12-year-old boys. Taylor also had previous convictions in Oregon and California for sexually abusing children.
Read the Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling on the complaint against Judge Barnack: http://bit.ly/128OXHy
Barnack and jurors in the case watched videotapes of Taylor sexually abusing the boys. According to the Supreme Court's ruling, the tapes were so disturbing that several jurors were reduced to tears. Jurors thanked Barnack for stopping some of the video, and three jurors asked if counseling was available to them.
During the sentencing, Barnack asked Taylor if he had anything to say. Taylor said he did not. One of Taylor's victims was present in the courtroom.
From the court ruling: "Barnack referred to Taylor as a 'piece of sh—-', repeatedly asked Taylor if he wanted to salvage his soul, commented that community members might ask why Taylor isn't 'hanging from a tree' and that he personally hopes that Taylor rots in prison."
All of these sentiments are understandable reactions to the depravity displayed by the defendant and the suffering he caused his victims. It is a normal human impulse to want to see such a person punished harshly.
While Barnack may have been correct that some community members might wonder why Taylor wasn't "hanging from a tree," our society no longer tolerates lynch mobs taking the law into their own hands. We have a court system to guard against that kind of vigilante justice.
That system's standards of behavior require officers of the court to maintain their composure, even when confronted with child sexual abuse and other horrors. That system has ensured that Taylor will be dealt with as severely as the law allows. He will die in prison.
If we as a society trusted mob violence to mete out justice to child molesters, we wouldn't need courtrooms or judges or juries. Taylor and his ilk would indeed be hanging from trees — along with a number of people who might be innocent.
We expect judges to be the adults in the room, maintaining order while seeing that the guilty are punished according to the law.
Requiring judges to keep their cool on the bench is not being "politically correct." It's being civilized.