The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 7, 1997 · Page 90
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December 7, 1997

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 90

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Sunday, December 7, 1997
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2E THE PALM BEACH POST SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7, 1997 F lUKPpSSf- I TRIED "TY The Palm Beach Post TOM GllFFRIDA. Publisher EDWARD SEARS. Editor LON DANIELSON, General Manager TOM O'HARA. Managing Editor RANDY SCHL'LTZ, Editor of the Editorial Page JAN Tl'CKWOOD. Associate Editor TOM H1GHFIELD, T Circulation LARRY SIEDLIK, IP Treasurer GALE HOWDEN, Director, Community Relations BOB BALFE, Director, Production LINDA MURPHY, Director, Human Resources KEN WALTERS. Director, Marketing and Research Guidelines? Reality can Judgment? mug either The Palm Beach Post's editorial cartoonist, Don Wright, is on vacation. Couple with a history of giving riminals get lighter sentences in Palm Beach County than any where else in Florida, a Post investigation revealed last week. At first glance, it's maddening to hear that the person who breaks into a house here is more likely to get a break than a burglar somewhere else. But before politicians bring out the bullhorns and start calling forjudges to be impeached, they should understand what's behind the lenient sentencing. Palm Beach County's judges, as a whole, believe in rehabilitation. They don't trust sentencing guidelines created by a political body that reacts to special interests and whatever crimes are making headlines. They prefer to reserve long prison sentences for the people they know can't be helped. If there's hope for a criminal, they try to find a program to help and a probation officer to supervise, rather than putting him behind bars for years. They have found that sending a nonviolent person to prison, where there are few opportunities for treatment, education or job training, wastes a life that could otherwise be made productive. This philosophy that sentences are more fair when they are determined using common sense and experience rather than the Legislature's sentencing guidelines works as long as the public is protected. But in some cases, as the Post series pointed out, criminals get a break and commit more crimes. Last year, one man whose history included convictions for murder, kidnapping, grand theft and nearly a dozen cocaine-related crimes deserved to be sent to prison for at least three years, according to sentencing guidelines. Circuit Judge Roger Colton put him on probation. Nine months later, the man was arrested twice more. ' These are not easy cases to decide. We rely on judges to consider more than guidelines, which take into account only the crime, the criminal's record Df history is a race between education and catastrophe, it's a contest Arthur and Sara Jo Kobacker are determined to win. At a luncheon Wednesday, the Boca Raton couple basked in the gratitude of United Way of Palm Beach County sup porters who were thanking them for a $1.3 million contribution. Like many people new to this area, however they've spent years and donated millions in Columbus, Ohio they are struck by the extremes of affluence and poverty in Palm Beach Fran Hathaway County. "I believe we can eliminate structural poverty in America," Mr. Kobacker told his audience, acknowledging they were "the choir." He hopes that the $1.3 million will be part of "a focused program" to reduce poverty in Palm Beach County. When I talked to the couple later, they stressed that their public announcement was less about burnishing their egos than about setting an example for others. "You sound like Ted Turner," I told them. In September, the CNN founder announced he would donate $1 billion over 10 years to a new foundation to benefit United Nations humanitarian projects such as fighting disease and aiding the world's refugees. He also said, in his less-than-subtle manner, that other rich folks don't Like Ted Turner, the Kobackers of Boca Raton may be in the vanguard of an exciting new wave of philanthropy. give away enough of their money. "I agree," Mr. Kobacker said. "Absolutely." The Turners and Kobackers, however, may be in the vanguard of an exciting new wave of philanthropy. The country is about to experience the greatest transfer of wealth between generations in history. And for many, philanthropy will mean more than a tax deduction. "More people are understanding that amassing money is one thing, but that there's a special magic in sharing what you have," says Shannon Sadler, president of the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties. The foundation, with $51 million in assets, reflects that philosophy here. For the Kobackers, it's been a way of life that began with Mr. Kobacker's father, who came from Lithuania "and always felt a tremendous obligation to the United States." The family shared what they had while building a business. Then in 1995, the Kobacker Co., which operated 674 shoe stores nationwide, was sold to Payless. Hospice has been closest to Sara Jo Kobacker's heart. The couple helped build a hospice facility in Columbus that is named for them. She sits on the National Hospice Disagreements forever Reno couldn't cure campaign ills When judges go light, they have a reason. Even after a harsh sentence, criminals come back to the streets. and the victim's injury. In Dade and Broward counties, many judges are so afraid of upsetting voters that they always sentence within the guidelines. Palm Beach County has proven that rehabilitation can work. The drug farm is one example. Two-thirds of those who completed the nine-month boot camp have not been charged with another crime in Florida. Sentencing statistics are skewed when it comes to cases in western Palm Beach County and those involving child sexual abuse. The Post series found that 92 percent of child molesters here get less than the minimum sentence. Fewer than 15 percent go to prison. State Attorney Barry Krischer says child abuse cases are different from any other, and he's right. But prosecutors and judges must be more diligent about giving prison sentences to those sex offenders who are put on probation and then abuse again. The series revealed one problem unlikely to be resolved. In Belle Glade, 96 percent of the criminals are sentenced below the minimum guidelines. Prosecutors there offer lenient pleas and the judge accepts them because cases fall apart when they go to trial in 'West Palm Beach. The Florida Supreme Court requires all trials to be in West Palm Beach because juries in Belle Glade were not racially balanced. Until the system changes, Judge Michael Miller, the law west of 20-Mile Bend, will have to use his best judgment. That's all anyone can ask of a judge. The Florida Supreme Court says 'polluter pays' must be put into Everglades Forever Act. It doesn't say how. say, "We do not construe the Everglades Forever Act to be the enabling legislation for Amendment 5." In other words, a new law is needed, but what that law should say is unknown. As for "primarily responsible," the justices said those who cause the pollution must pay to clean it up, which seems to say primarily means "completely." They added in a footnote, however, that it should not be assumed that all pollution covered by Amendment 5 is caused by EAA farmers. Some of those who pushed the amendment have their own ideas about what the decision means, and they acted quickly. On Wednesday, they asked the courts to declare unconstitutional the formula in the Everglades Forever Act for assigning costs, with the implication that the farmers should foot the entire bill. The plaintiffs say this should not bring the cleanup to a halt unless the Legislature fails to change the law next spring. Farmers are responsible for some of the Everglades' problems. But so is drainage for subdivisions and, in central Palm Beach County, runoff from some of those subdivisions. To assign the entire cost to farmers is unfair. The Legislature must deal with that. If the fight stalls the cleanup, it could be fatal for the Everglades. Pro athletes who have done more damage than Latrell Sprewell cavort on the fields and arenas of the land. damage to teammates, opponents, fans and girlfriends cavort on the fields and arenas of the land. Sports talk shows buzz with the view that attacking the boss doesn't deserve such "severe" punishment especially in comparison to what others have done. And some people wonder how we got so many jaded 10-year-olds. Foundation Board. But education has been at the heart of other projects, such as the I Know I Can Program, which the couple helped found in 1988. "We promised every kid and parent in the city's largest school district that if they studied hard and graduated from high school, a lack of money would not stop them from going to college," Mr. Kobacker says. He and others raised a $13 million endowment to fulfill the promise. Investing in kids is a way of giving children and through them, the rest of us hope for the future. It's a goal the Kobackers share with their friend Eugene Lang. Mr. Lang is the New York philanthropist who in 1981 started what became the "I Have a Dream" Foundation, which spon-' sors projects in 63 cities. Elementary school children are promised four years of college if they graduate from high school. ; Yet both Gene Lang and the Kobackers have learned that even the life-altering' offer of a college education may not be. enough to motivate people mired in pover-' ty. If you're a 10-year-old whose home life is in turmoil, it's hard to focus on some--' thing so far in the future, something no one' you know has ever experienced. It takes more than a promise. It takes reaching kids earlier. It takes mentors and tutors for parents as well as children. Most of all, it takes grownups who aren't' daunted by the difficulties, people with an eye on history. B Fran Hathaway is an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. ' favor with a Republican Con- -gress. Mr. Freeh's straight-arrow reputation inoculates him against this charge. i Mr. Freeh also has substantive disagreements with-; Ms. Reno. He has a different; view of the case and the law.v He thinks there may be two conspiracies, one within the. , Clinton administration and one by the Chinese govern-, ment to influence our elec-T tion. The possibility of a con- ' spiracy tips him toward a , counsel. And he worries that ' Ms. Reno's Justice Department has an inherent conflict ', of interest investigating the , president. Mr. Freeh's view may yet carry the day. But Ms. Reno's decision leaves time for that. , Her judgment is that sticking' another independent counsel' on the president is a decision' ' not to be taken lightly or in 1 response to pressure. She's right, especially given the performance of recent coun-" sels and the Republican lean- t ings of the judicial panel that would select this one. Justice is not disserved by her insistence that the case needs to develop further. In the meantime, Mr. Freeh and Ms. Reno should air their grounds for disagreement. It's too late, with all the leaks, to say this is an internal matter. This dreary mess leaves the campaign laws in tatters. That, in large part, is Presi-, dent Clinton's fault. The independent counsel statute is , more hopelessly mired in par-. , tisan politics than ever. The ' Republicans have much to do " with that. So much for the Watergate reforms. Ms. Reno keeps trying to preserve a t precarious balance. Don't envy her. It will only get .' harder. B E.J. Dionne Jr. is a political columnist for The Wash- . ington Post. The Supreme Court's opinion on the "polluter pays" amendment to Florida's Constitution has something for everyone, which makes it a blueprint for confusion. In November 1996, voters adopted an amendment on the general election ballot, saying that "those in the Everglades Agricultural Area who cause water pollution . . . shall be primarily responsible for paying the costs of the abatement of that pollution." Does that mean the Legislature must pass new laws? What does "primarily responsible" mean? In order to head off prolonged disputes that could slow Everglades restoration, Gov. Chiles asked the justices for their advice. Now that he has that advice, it's not clear whether he is any better off. The law governing the cleanup is the Everglades Forever Act of 1994, which sets out in detail the first of two steps in ending phosphorus pollution and makes some changes in the way water flows into the Everglades. Phosphorus levels are too high, upsetting the natural balance of plant life and thus destroying wildlife habitat, mostly because crops have replaced sawgrass in the EAA, a 700,000-acre arc south of Lake Okeechobee. EAA farmers are to pay between $233 million and $322 million of the $700 million cost, depending on how much phosphorus they remove on their own land. Does that satisfy the mandate of the "polluter pays" law? Who knows? It was not clear before, and despite the court's opinion, it isn't yet. At one point in its opinion, the Supreme Court writes, "We find no inconsistency between the Everglades Forever Act and Amendment 5." But, later in the same paragraph, justices THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Attorney General Janet Reno arrives for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. Campaign laws in tatters are mostly Clinton's fault. The independent counsel law was mired in politics by Republicans. 0f Attorney General Janet. Reno had called for an independent counsel to investigate President Clinton and Vice President Gore for the 1996 campaign abuses, she could have washed her hands of the whole mess. Instantly, she would have put herself on the same page as FBI Director Louis Freeh and won loud plaudits from Republicans in Congress as an independent-minded hero. And President Clinton couldn't have touched her. E.J. Dionne Jr. She did things differently. In the long run, the political and legal systems are better off for it. This is not the end of the investigation of Mr. Clinton, though it does take much pressure off Mr. Gore. The decision was sealed weeks ago when Ms. Reno decided to focus on whether fund-raising phone calls made from the White House violated a 100-year-old law. There was no precedent for such prosecutions. Republicans quickly attacked her for the narrowness of her ruling. But as Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., noted, some of the same Republicans had once insisted that the phone calls were not a narrow issue but a big deal that needed investigating, which Ms. Reno did. Unfortunately for the Democrats, there's more to the story. Mr. Clinton's 1995- How the ball bounces 96 ad campaign, paid for with unregulated "soft money," has come under legitimate attack, and not just from Republicans. The ads certainly violated the spirit of the reform laws passed after Watergate, which provide taxpayer money to presidential candidates who agree to limit their spending. A strong case can be made that Mr. Clinton's involvement in planning the ad campaign violated the letter of the law, too. Common Cause, the reform group that could never be confused for a right-wing anti-Clinton outfit, has made that case as well as anyone. President Clinton believes he found a loophole in the law that let him run the ads because they focused on "issues" and because they never said "vote for Clinton." Even if a court were to rule in Mr. Clinton's favor, his choice was dead wrong and profoundly damaging to the political system. By continuing to open loopholes, the Supreme Court does make President Clinton's case look stronger. Nonetheless, his reading of the law is tendentious at best. But it's far from clear that it's the job of an independent counsel to settle such legal arguments. And any investigation of Mr. Clinton would have to look into comparable Republican campaign abuses. If the Republicans really believe what they're saying about soft money, they should call for an independent counsel to look into both sides, as Common Cause has. Director Freeh's break with Ms. Reno is a much bigger problem for Mr. Clinton. Democrats will get nowhere if they say Mr. Freeh's call for an independent counsel is his way of currying s this the limit? The Golden State Warriors canceled basketball star Latrell Sorewell's $32 million con tract, and the National Basketball League banned him for a year. His offense? "Sprewell assaulted Coach (PJ.) Carlesimo twice at practice. First, he choked him until forcibly pulled away. Then, after leaving practice, Sprewell returned and fought his way through others in order to commit a second, and this time clearly premeditated, assault," said league Commissioner David Stern. He imposed the suspension to keep another team from hiring the available Mr. Sprewell. Pro athletes who have done more T A HtfTXlMrt JTT1

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