Judge Dee Benson has been catching a lot of flak lately for the reasoning behind the two-year sentence he handed Tim DeChristopher on July 26. The judge does have his defenders, of course, such as the law-and-order brethren over at the Deseret News, who agree with the judge that free speech is way overrated in this day and age.
Many people, however, are scratching their heads (and not just because they suffer from dry, itchy scalps so common in these parts during the summer) about Judge Benson’s muddled explanation as to why he was sending the oil-lease prankster up the river for a couple of years. According to news reports, the judge told DeChristopher that the “offense itself, with all apologies to people actually in the auction itself, wasn’t that bad.” What was bad, apparently, was that the balding environmentalist didn’t keep his pie hole shut. Worse, he failed to show any remorse, known in these parts as a contrite and broken heart.
The judge expressed disapproval of DeChristopher’s “continuing trail of statements” about protecting the environment and the need for civil disobedience. Had the bogus bidder just zipped his lips, why then, he wouldn’t have gone to prison and perhaps wouldn’t have been prosecuted. Given the judge’s remarks about the primacy of law, and how as a judge his role was merely that of a humble interpreter thereof, it seemed odd that the judge would justify his sentence by referring to things that had nothing to do with the offense itself.
We wanted to give the distinguished judge a chance to explain himself, and arranged a session in his private hide-away next to a broom closet in the federal courthouse. We had been told that the Benson twins (Dee’s brother Lee is a veteran sportswriter and blogger at the Deseret News) often switch places with no one being the wiser; we can’t be sure we were talking to the judge himself, but he was wearing a robe and watching Judge Judy when we entering the hideaway, proof enough for us of his bona fides.
The Honorable Judge Benson: Come in, come in. Judge Judy is really giving this guy heck for using his girlfriend’s pantyhose as a paint strainer. You know, I just love Judge Judy.
Deep End: I’m a Judge Wapner fan myself.
Judge Benson: Oh, he was too much of a strict constructionist for my tastes. Half the fun—if not 90 percent of the fun—of being a judge is ignoring the law and doing what you darn well please.
DE: But during the sentencing, you were quoted as saying there was man’s law and God’s law, and it was your job to interpret the law.
Judge Benson: Right on, bro! The law itself is pretty boring. But interpreting the law, well, that’s more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.
DE: So, what about God’s law? Couldn’t you argue that DeChristopher, in looking out for God’s creation, was obeying God’s law, just like the dude in A Man for All Seasons, which you quoted with approval?
Judge Benson: I think one of my law clerks came up with that. Never saw the movie.
DE: Getting back to your decision, why didn’t you just keep it simple and say, well, “Brother DeChristopher, you broke a law, and here’s your punishment.” People would have been pissed, but at least they might have chalked it up to the consequences of civil disobedience. But you seemed to think DeChristopher’s crime was spouting off. What did you call it? “A continuing trail of statements”? Is a trail of statements sort of like a pile of statements?
Judge Benson: We can’t have people leaving a trail of statements for other people to step in. A trail of statements is worse than a pile of statements. If you’re going to leave a trail of statements, at least try to clean up after yourself. And he claims to care about the environment! The DeChristopher kid not only left a trail of statements, he showed no remorse. Like Judge Judy, I always look for a contrite and broken heart.
DE: I see she just sentenced the pantyhose thief to three years in jail.
Judge Benson: Because he left a continuing trail of pantyhose. The act itself wasn’t bad; it was that he went around bragging about it!
DE: Thank you for your time.
Judge Benson: Don’t step in any statements on your way out.