Denver Bar Association
July 2007
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Murder + Teacher Scandals = Efficiency Lesson

by Paul Kennebeck

Are there better examples of judicial efficiencies than those that occurred on the same day in the middle of June?

In Selmer, Tenn., Mary Winkler was sentenced to three years in prison for killing her husband (a pastor) by shooting him in the back as he lay in bed. Giving her credit for time served, Winkler only has to remain in jail for 67 days.

The first efficiency to be observed is that the court’s time won’t be wasted on needless appeals. Of course, Winkler wants to appeal the unjustness of her sentence (who wants to stay in jail 67 days?), but by the time the appeal is filed and heard, Winkler will be a free woman. If all courts were as savvy as Winkler’s court, one could shoot a spouse in the back, serve a brief time, and be assured that tax dollars weren’t being wasted on judges reading endless briefs in an attempt to free the murderer.

Winkler’s lawyer was quoted as saying: "Of course it’s a victory. She could be in prison for life. … " See the mess that was avoided? You put someone in jail for life and what do you get? Countless briefs, countless hearings, countless appeals, and any number of parole hearings, sentencing hearings, etc.

Winkler’s defense was that she was abused during her marriage. Some critics might argue that, rather than shoot her husband in the back, Winkler should have used the courts to obtain a divorce. But this is short-sighted. What critics don’t understand is the endless wrangling, hearings, and grief that divorces generate. Imagine how such nasty divorce proceedings will effect Winkler’s three young children. Besides, has anyone considered that perhaps Winkler’s religion forbids divorce?

The question that presents itself is this: If the courts can be this efficient, why can’t the police? Why, for example, did the police even arrest Winkler? By arresting her, the police initiated a process that took up police hours, court time, even juror time. The unfortunate conclusion to be drawn is the fact that cops just cannot be as flexible as those of us trained in the law.

The second example of superb court efficiency occurred in Fort Collins and can be best summed up with the Rocky Mountain News headline: "Ex-teacher sentenced to 45 days for sexual liaison." The teacher is Carrie McCandless. The sexual liaison was with a male student.

Sure, McCandless did the same things those awful Catholic priests are being sent to jail for decades for, but look at the consternation those long sentences cause. Why give McCandless the same punishment as the priests? Besides, this is not an issue regarding a third-rate priest in a position of trust, this is a high school teacher in a position of trust. And it’s of no significance that the student was of the opposite sex. Or that the teacher "is probably the prettiest teacher at the school."


Thankfully, there won’t be any appeals in this case, no trees destroyed to write hundreds of pages of briefs, no wasted court time. Of course, if it had been a male teacher and a female student, entire forests would have been destroyed to provide the paper that would flow through the court. Again, one wonders why McCandless even was arrested. Surely police can become as efficient as the courts.

Are there other examples of judicial efficiency?

Of course. But, except for the last two words, let it be known that this deeply reasoned essay on the contemporary aspects of judicial proficiency didn’t even mention Paris Hilton.

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