Update: The East Bay Bicycle Coalition is currently featuring links to this entry on their homepage.
In light of the recent unconscionable ruling of Judge John True (which released the woman who killed Matthew with less than a slap on the wrist), a letter-writing campaign has been started to call for True’s resignation. The name of the driver is witheld in the following letter for reasons of legal prudence. John Shiurba writes :
Yes, it’s time to get the letter writing campaign under way. I have written a letter, which anyone is free to use as model, but I think if we all write in our own words, the impact will be stronger.
Here is a copy of my letter, with the defendants name and my address deleted. Feel free to circulate this in any way you see fit. I would urge anyone writing letters to be careful not to engage in libel. The following letter represents the opinion of its author and nothing more.
Judge John True
Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse
661 Washington Street,
Oakland, CA 94607
Dear Judge True,
I am writing to express my outrage over your indefensible ruling in the case of XXXXX, who killed Matthew Sperry while illegally driving a borrowed car. There’s no hiding behind “the law” in this case, your decision was clearly wrong, and frankly nothing less than morally reprehensible. I don’t understand all the “ins & outs” of the legalese, but I do understand that even though the DA was technically unable to charge XXXXX with anything more than a misdemeanor, as judge you had latitude to decide whether the charge would remain as a crime, or be reduced to an infraction thereby reducing the sentence to a mere fine. Under special circumstances someone in this position could get a jail sentence and probation, and as the DA put it to us, it’s hard to imagine what would qualify as “special circumstances” if not these.
I know that you were within your “legal” authority to make the decision that you made, and I write you now not to question that legal authority, but rather to express my anger and frustration that someone in your position could display such a lack of moral character, and such disregard for the decency that characterizes our community. You may be a judge, but your judgment is very poor. I do not make any claim to a full understanding the complexity of the moral fabric of our community, and hence I have no aspirations to serve as a judge. But I will say without a doubt that you, sir, have exhibited a clear misunderstanding of what our community is all about. You have also have sent a clear message to bicyclists everywhere– watch out, because you have no rights! Stay off the streets, because anyone, even someone with no right to drive a car can get behind the wheel of a borrowed car and mow you down with impunity. As long as they do it on the backstreets where no one sees, there’s a judge who will let them walk, and that judge’s name is John True.
I would like to stand up in memory of Matthew Sperry and call for your resignation.
In the coming weeks and months, I hope that you will be inundated by letters such as my own. Should you elect not to resign, I can assure you that I will join with many others from our community and beyond, to convince voters that you are not fit to serve as judge.
[Your Name and Address]
I have known Judge True personally and professionally for many years. I have worked with him, as have dozens of my colleagues. Judge True spent a large portion of his career prior to his appointment to the bench working for the legal aid society in SF. Throughout the time that I have known Judge True, he has exemplified the highest professional ethics and his reputation in the community is untarnished.
I personally know as much about the Matthew Sperry accident as most of the people calling for Judge True’s resignation — that is to say, nothing. Sentencing in a criminal matter requires the balancing of significant and often countervailing interests. As tragic as the accident and death was, the grief of Mr. Sperry’s loved ones simply is not the only, or even the most important, interest to be served in a criminal justice case. This is true where the family of a murder victim calls for the death penalty, and it is true here. The independence and impartial judgment of our judiciary depends upon this being the case.
While Mr. Sperry’s loved ones have every right to speak freely on this matter, it would behoove all to keep in mind that perpective is crucial. The magnitude of your suffering simply cannot determine the weight of the sentence imposed on the driver. I am willing to bet that most of you would agree with that sentiment if it were applied to other criminal matters in which you did not have a personal stake.
That is the heart of our criminal justice system: the interests of the community as a whole are supreme. Any other approach devolves to vigilantism.
I think that most of us who were close to Matthew (I am presuming to speak for others here, forgive me) are grateful for the fact that the law is impartial to individual suffering, and are grateful for rational judges who respect the rule of law.
But that’s not our concern here. Our concern is the utterly mystifying reduction of the driver’s sentence from a misdemeanor to an infraction. No one involved with the case (that I know of) seems able to answer this question, which stands apart from elements of empathy for the victim’s family.
Are you suggesting that the rule of law commands that a person who drives with a suspended license and kills a human being have their sentence reduced?
There’s a missing piece here, and we need to understand what it is. Until we have an explanation, Judge True’s decision does not appear motivated by reason. It may have been, but it does not appear that way, since we have not been privy to his reasoning.
For me it simply comes down to the fact that Judge True had the latitude to impose a sentence that fit the crime. The defendent’s actions were obviously unintentional. However she was not merely caught driving without a license. If that had been the case the ruling of an infraction and fine would have been appropriate and in the community’s best interest. However her carelessness while committing an unlawful action resulted in the death of another person. It would seem to me that in the very least a misdemeanor ruling with probation and community service would have been the least the defendent could have done, given the circumstances.
I do not for a minute think anyone of Matthew’s family or friends are crying out for blood and vigilante style justice. We simply feel the defendent should have received a sentence with in the the law governing the circumstances that reflected the severity of the consequences of her careless actions.
The only service I see to the community in Judge True’s handslap ruling is a rather crass one: he saved the taxpayers some money by not giving the defendent jail time and/or probation. Other than that I would be very interested to hear how giving the defendent in this case a mere fine served the community.
I don’t know when a person’s life is worth $211? How do we determine that. Is my life worth $211? I don’t think so. There is a charge called involuntary manslaughter, where a driver can be sentenced for murder if it is an accident and not on purpose. This wouldn’t bring back Matthew Sperry nor any other bicyclist/pedestrian killed by a bad driver, but it would be equal justice.
I think as long as public policy continues to favor cars and drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists can count on NO justice. So Judge True, if a someone wanted to “get away” with killing a person, s/he could use a car. If s/he were caught and convinced everyone it was an accident, then getting a fair sentence would be, historically, out of the question.
My suggestions are to either stop riding a bike and walking, move to a place where laws and social policy understands the dangers of driving cars, try to enact laws that equal the playing field (see The Netherlands’ for example) or run a few judges over by accident.