Judge defends sex sentence amid firestorm
By LOUIS PORTER Vermont Press Bureau | January 11,2006
MONTPELIER — As Republican lawmakers in Montpelier called for his resignation and conservative news outlets and Web sites around the country called for his head, Judge Edward Cashman on Tuesday defended the controversial sentence he gave a sex offender.
Cashman, a district court judge in Burlington, sentenced Mark Hulett to as little as 60 days in prison for repeatedly sexually abusing a young girl over a four-year period, beginning when she was 6 years old.
Hulett was given a sentence of 10 years to life in prison, with all but 60 days suspended. He will remain on probation for life, and could be sent back to prison if he violates the conditions of his release.
In an order affirming his sentence, Cashman said Tuesday that society would be better protected if Hulett received sex-offender treatment than if he was given a longer sentence and his treatment was delayed.
"The Corrections Department presents the court with a sentencing dilemma," Cashman wrote. "It requires the court to decide between two less-than-ideal options."
"This sentence provides the Commissioner of Corrections and the Parole Board maximum flexibility in how they address the concerns raised by Mr. Hulett's conduct," Cashman wrote.
An offender like Hulett — judged by Corrections to be less likely than other sex offenders to commit another crime — will receive treatment after his release, but not while in prison.
That is partially because prison crowding makes space for such treatments tight, said Corrections Commissioner Robert Hofmann. Treatment upon release has been shown to be quite effective, he added.
That policy will now be reviewed, in part because of the controversy over the Hulett case, Hofmann said.
"This court shares the concerns of many that untreated sexual offenders are now returning to the community after fully serving lengthy incarcerate sentences," Cashman wrote. "Public safety is at risk."
But there is a reason beyond rehabilitation for prison sentences, one not taken into account by Cashman, Hofmann said. That reason is punishment.
"Because of the offense, he should have incarcerated time to reflect on the pain he has caused and to be punished," the commissioner said.
Lawmakers who agreed began gathering support Tuesday for a resolution calling on Cashman to resign from the bench.
One of the most worrisome aspects of the sentence is Cashman's apparent rejection of punishment as a legitimate reason for prison terms, said Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington.
"If he has come around to that type of thinking, he ought to step down," Wright said.
Cashman will come before the Legislature's Judicial Retention Committee in 2007, but Wright said action is needed sooner than that.
"You don't wait for a year or a year and a half when the sentence is so outrageous and he has said he doesn't believe in punishment in these cases," Wright said.
Cashman's view also goes against the state's constitution, said Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport, who sponsored the resolution with Wright.
"Ed Cashman is a personal and longtime friend of mine and I respect his work on the bench," Kilmartin said. But "I believe he violated his constitutional oath of office as a judge."
The victim in such a case deserves that a more substantial sentence to be handed down, Kilmartin said.
"It's time to stop allowing judges in general … to hide behind the claim that the sentence has to protect society and not the individual victim," he said.
Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he wants to learn the details of the case before making up his mind about Cashman's sentence.
"Sentencing is complicated and this was further complicated by issues of access to treatment for sex offenders and because of the policies of the Department of Corrections," Lippert said. "This is not simply a 60-day sentence."
There is a process for the Legislature to comment on a judge's performance, said Cheryl Hanna, a Vermont Law School professor who specializes in constitutional law.
"Explicit in our state constitution is a way for the legislative branch to check judicial conduct," Hanna said. What can be a problem, however, is if such a call springs from partisan motives, she said.
"If there are legislators who are brave enough to call for impeachment they should do that," Hanna said. "What I would hope would come out of the Cashman discussion would be a more fruitful discussion about the criminal justice system and what we should do with sex offenders."
There does need to be work done on the "front end" of the judicial system, for instance in sentencing, she added.
The case has boosted calls for mandatory minimum sentences in such cases, something Sen. Wendy Wilton, R-Rutland, has been advocating for several months.
"We have seen a pattern of light sentencing of sex offenders (who victimize) children and young people," Wilton said.
But some, including prosecutors in the state, worry that long mandatory minimum sentences will result in fewer plea bargains and more strain on victims and the court system.
"It may unnecessarily put a victim through a trial," said Jane Woodruff, executive director of the Vermont State's Attorneys and Sheriffs Department.
Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he leads, considered mandatory minimum sentences last year and will look at them again.
Sears said most of the Vermonters he has talked to have been "appalled" by Cashman's sentence, which he also thinks is inadequate.
The case has stirred up interest outside the state as well.
Fox News ran a column on the matter under the headline "moronic judges," while a Washington Times column labeled the judge a "knave" for the shortness of the sentence.
A conservative Web site, "The American Daily," concluded in its analysis: "Vermont judge is a danger to children."
Contact Louis Porter at firstname.lastname@example.org.