Four takeaways from the Jesse and Sandi Jackson sentencings
Wed, 08/14/2013 - 4:45pm
WASHINGTON--Takeways in the wake of the sentencing of Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi on Wednesday.... MENTAL HEALTH, NOT SO MITIGATING Mental health issues melted away as a mitigating factor in reducing the sentence for former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who is suffering from bipolar disorder and depression. Last April 26, federal prosecutors told U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson (no relation) in open court that if Jackson planned to raise his bipolar disorder as a mitigating factor when it comes to sentencing-—which defense lawyers by then had signaled they were going to do--the prosecutors would want to have Jackson checked out by government doctors. It turned out that Jackson’s defense team never presented much detailed information about his mental illness beyond short letters from his doctors to the judge in the months before the Wednesday sentencing. In a June filing pleading for a shorter sentence, Jackson’s lawyers said it was “unlikely” he would be able to relate to a prison psychiatrist, though no specifics were provided. So what happened? Either there was not enough there there--or the defense did not want to risk a hearing pitting defense doctors against government experts—or Jackson wanted to keep his health issues private and did not want all the details out in court. The result? The judge said she was at a loss to consider how, for example, his bipolar diagnosis led to an episode of binge spending at Best Buy. Prosecutor Matt Graves told the judge it was up to the defense team to make the mental illness argument and there was not even agreement between Jackson’s doctors as to what, exactly, he was suffering from. The judge--right before she sentenced Jackson-- said she was not “given enough information” to make his mental illness a substantial factor for her to consider. “The mitigating circumstances do not mitigate,” she said. DOWN-TO-EARTH JUDGE BRUSHES OFF MOM FACTOR Judge Jackson turned out to be quite interesting. She was at times very sympathetic to Jackson, far less so to Sandi. She was brisk, wry in a common sense way and seemed very down-to-earth. The judge lamented the fact that she was meeting the Jacksons’ for the first time on their sentencing day. Another judge handled the guilty pleas in February. She said she was “distressed” from the beginning that the “first time I laid eyes on these people is at the sentencing.” Sandi Jackson’s lawyers main argument for probation—in lieu of prison time—was how much the Jackson kids, a son, age 9 and a daughter, who is 13 needed their mom. The judge noted that Sandi was hardly a “passive spouse” in this case, pointing out a day when she spend $8,500 for clothes and furs from looted campaign funds. A lot of defendants are devoted parents—whose kids are hurt when they go to prison. Said the judge to Sandi, right before handing down a year in prison, “It’s not the court that put your children in this position.” RESTITUTION BREAK When she pled guilty in February, Sandi Jackson agreed to pay restitution of more than $168,000 to the IRS. The judge reduced this to $22,000. VICTIMS AND LOOSE ENDS The judge declined to a request from prosecutors to appoint a monitor to wind down the Jackson campaign fund, which has $105,703 left in the account. She also dismissed—as kind of far-fetched—the government notion that the fund is owed restitution. There were victims the judge said—the donors to the Jackson campaign fund. The matter of what to do with the fund seems now to be up to the Federal Election Commission.