O'Brien Should Stop Angling for Special Favors, Go to Work
Well, It Didn't Take Long for the Wriggling to Begin

The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
April 7, 2004

Just 12 days ago, the Rev. Thomas J. O'Brien received the answer to his prayers and was given probation for his role in the hit-and-run death of Jim Reed. Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Gerst withstood the wrath of a portion of the community and spared the bishop a stint in the pokey.

One of O'Brien's attorneys praised the judge that day, saying he showed "extraordinary courage" in keeping the bishop out of Sheriff Joe's jail.

"It was a thoughtful, deliberate analysis of issues and, more importantly, humanistic concerns in terms of sentencing an individual," said Patrick McGroder, a member of O'Brien's legal defense team. "I thought his integrity and courage were outstanding."

Six days later, the bishop's attorneys began angling to wriggle out of some of that "thoughtful, deliberate" sentence.

With the specter of iron bars safely behind him, suddenly the 1,000 hours of community service the judge ordered O'Brien to serve over the next few years loomed large. A bit too large, as it turned out.

So Team O'Brien returned to Gerst's office last Thursday, quietly asking that some of the bishop's travel time to and from nursing homes and the like be counted as part of the 1,000 hours he's supposed to spend ministering to the sick and dying.

There is just one problem.

O'Brien's attorneys have said all along that the bishop shouldn't be treated differently for leaving the scene of the accident just because he's a bishop.

Well, probation officials told me they don't consider travel time a community service.

Even travel time by a bishop.

"That's not the norm," said Mike Goss, deputy chief for the county Adult Probation Department. "We would not normally in your average case do something like that in terms of giving travel time."

Goss said, however, that probation officers will do whatever the judge orders, and that's where it gets interesting.

County Attorney Rick Romley's office, still smarting from Gerst's refusal to put the bishop behind bars, says the judge, in Thursday's private meeting, was willing to go along with O'Brien's request.

"It offends any notion of equal justice for the defendant to ask the court to allow him credit for travel time in performing community service, and the state submits that the court should reconsider its initial receptiveness to the defendant's request," prosecutor Anthony Novitsky wrote.

He's asked for a hearing so that Gerst can formally clarify the terms of probation.

Attorney Tom Henze, meanwhile, replied that Romley's office is grandstanding for political reasons and that, contrary to prosecutors' accusations, Gerst has done nothing inappropriate. O'Brien, he wrote, "stands ready to do whatever he can possibly do to complete and satisfy the requirements of the terms and conditions of probation."

Except, of course, that he would like "certain limited credit for travel time," as Henze puts it, primarily on longer trips.

I can't imagine that Gerst would actually go along with that. This is the judge, after all, who just 12 days ago put on a 90-minute Power Point presentation to assure us all that the bishop didn't get special treatment when he avoided jail.

"This court," he declared that day, "must treat this defendant in the same way . . . as an ordinary citizen."

He's right. Which is why O'Brien should quit going to court and instead go to work.


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