Judgment comes in many forms, including thinking carefully before one speaks and acts, handing down fair punishment to a person convicted of a crime, and making a sacrificial decision in the midst of a difficult situation.
All three types were on display this week in the case of former Covington Municipal Court judge Steven Hathorn, who resigned voluntarily Monday after learning of a complaint by a court employee who accused Hathorn of using racially inappropriate and prejudiced language.
Among the comments in question were these two:
- "I get so sick of giving young African Americans criminal histories, but it’s because y’all get in trouble."
- "Having a criminal record hanging around your neck is just like having a big old (unsure of adjective used) chain dragging you down."
Speaking to the Covington City Council after that body heard the audio in question, Hathorn said he made the comments because he was frustrated by the number of young black people, particularly men, who would get a second chance to avoid a criminal history but would end up committing another crime and throwing their second chance away.
Who wouldn’t be frustrated, considering we seem to live in a society where respect for following the law is no longer a virtue?
Were Hathorn’s comments untrue? No. Were they appropriate for a judge? No.
A judge is in a position of authority, and that authority is what keeps society in order. We have the deepest respect for legal officials, but we can easily see how a judge could get caught up in using that authority and, in trying to make a point to help someone, cross a line that could have been easily avoided.
Hathorn took over a position that had been previously tainted with controversy and cleaned up the court, running it with a firm hand.
The court of public opinion seems to be in Hathorn’s favor, but even the judge acknowledged he could have been more careful with his words.
A second chance might have been in order for the judge, but he decided to resign instead of putting a city council (comprised of three white men and three black women) in the tough position of ruling on his future.
We thank the judge for his sacrifice and good judgment. We agree with those who have characterized Hathorn as an honorable man.
It’s rarely possible to know the true character of a man’s heart, but we hope the public will use good judgment, and consider the full base of facts, before judging Hathorn.