How has crime changed your life

August 27, 1998

About two years ago, our sister publication, the South Bend Tribune, of South Bend, Indiana, did an interesting feature about how crime changes its victims. A year later, the victims of a shooting, a burglary and an embezzlement talked about the lasting marks that crime leaves, on your spirit if not your body. A couple months ago, the Baltimore Sun did the same thing, rekindling my interest in a local project.

And so, using our electronic database, I looked up a series of crime reports from 1997 and contacted the victims. We've had some fascinating conversations, but the experience affected them in ways they'd rather not talk about publicly. The emotions ran from fear (that an attacker might return) to disappointment and disgust (that someone they'd trusted had taken advantage of that trust.)

I still think the project is worth doing, because getting over a crime is not like getting over an illness or even a broken bone. Your outlook changes, and even after the last news story has been written and the judge's gavel falls for the final time, you might get your money back, but you probably won't reclaim your old attitude.


If you've been a victim of a crime and you'd like to share your story as a warning to others - one burglary victim I spoke to had left a door unlocked - call me weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at (301) 733-5131, ext. 7622. Everything you say will be confidential and off-the-record unless you agree otherwise.

Speaking of judges and courtrooms, this past Sunday we printed a letter that Washington County Circuit Court Judges Donald Beachley and W. Kennedy Boone III wrote in reply to an August 17 Herald-Mail editorial, which criticized a letter sent out on their campaign stationery asking local lawyers to support them, and to ask their clients to do so as well.

The judges' reply says that if a client agreed to help, or refused to do so, and somehow communicated that to the judges, they would immediately disqualify themselves from hearing that person's case.

"Hence, there is absolutely NO ADVANTAGE for a person to volunteer to help our election effort because we positively will not hear any cases involving such individuals," they wrote, adding that although they have 45 years of legal experience between them, they've never had an ethics complaint filed against them.

So if I understand what they're saying, even though they allowed their campaign committee to ask lawyers to ask their clients for support, if a client did offer that support, or refuse to provide it, it wouldn't do them any good or harm because these judges are straight arrows who won't let politics intrude into the courtroom.

What they and their supporters don't seem to grasp is that in the hands of someone less scrupulous than they are, this tactic could be misused. By using it now, they legitimize its future use by someone who, unlike them, isn't on the side of the angels and may indeed allow themselves to be influenced by the support defendants provide (or withhold) from their judicial campaign.

To put it another way, if I as a married man argue that there's nothing wrong with having clandestine meetings with a young single woman because I'm a good person and nothing will happen, doesn't that make it easier for a less honorable man to use that same argument in the future?

And while we're on the subject of married men and single women, there's no sign yet that my fantasy about Hillary angrily pitching Bill's clothes off the White House balcony is about to come true. This week while on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, the First Couple went sailing with retired CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite.

If you're wondering why the guy they call "the most trusted man in America" would associate with this sleazeball, it's probably for the same reason I occasionally walk over the courthouse to get an up-close look at a defendant in some particularly heinous criminal case - curiosity.

I'd bet Cronkite let them come aboard because, aside from the respect he has for the office, he was curious about how they're relating to each other these days. Determined as they seem to be to keep up a good front, there must be some small signs of strain visible only to close observers.

In the long run, part of the president's punishment for this inappropriate relationship will be his metamorphosis in the public's mind from a leader to a curiosity who attracts our attention not because we look up to him, but because we expect his next pratfall to be more outrageous than the last.

Bob Maginnis is opinion page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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