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Hemphill/Rooke plea deal makes mockery of justice

July 29, 2008

From all appearances, Ricki Lynn Hemphill was a good employee of the Washington County Circuit Court Clerk's office.

In January 1999, he was promoted to chief deputy clerk by Circuit Court Clerk Dennis Weaver, though that post had been officially unfilled for 16 years.

At the time, Weaver said "Rick does most of the duties that a chief deputy clerk does. This recognizes that."

As chief deputy clerk, Hemphill was certainly aware of what a criminal offense was. And yet, prosecutors say that Hemphill and his mother became involved in a scheme that cost the county's liquor board $14,000.

But Hemphill and his mother, Constance Joan Rooke, won't face any jail time - or any police record - if they repay the money.

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It's an outrageous deal that most offenders wouldn't get- and which prosecutors should have been ashamed to make - because both Hemphill and Rooke were in positions of public trust.

They knew full well what they were doing was wrong and now, for reasons that haven't been explained, they're going to get a "get out of jail free" card.

The fact that they won't have even have criminal records is shameful and is certainly no service to anyone who might hire them in the future. They don't even have to do community service. Where's the accountability?

Other defendants haven't been so lucky, including:

· A Hagerstown couple charged in 1998 with $8,000 in insurance fraud. Each received three years' jail time.

· In November 1999, the comptroller of a Hagerstown company who embezzled $124,000 was forced to sell his house to repay what insurance wouldn't.

As part of the plea agreement, his attorney promised he wouldn't seek probation before judgment, then or in the future. He was stuck with a criminal record.

· In September 2000, a caregiver who stole $2,000 from a mental-health client received a six-month suspended sentence.

Told that the incident might lead to the loss of her social worker's license, the judge said that perhaps "she shouldn't be in that field."

Even the 18-year-old convicted last week of letting the air out of tires on 85 Berkeley County (W.Va.) school buses received a harsher penalty than Rooke or Hemphill - more than $1,500 in fines, court costs and restitution, plus 300 hours of community service.

Based on what we know now about the plea agreement, Hemphill and Rooke won't even have to repay the costs of the investigation.

Like the rest of this deal, that stinks.

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