Sunday, January 08, 2012

Judge punishes frat house stunt

Here is a 2004 story about Judge Almquist, the new local family court judge:
The boozy frat boys reveled in their 15 minutes of reality show fame, laughing and mugging for MTV cameras that captured them stealing a beloved jumbo golden fish from a UC Santa Cruz pond last summer -- then bludgeoning it with a beer bottle and gutting, frying and eating it at their off-campus fraternity house.

But Casey Loop and Matthew Cox weren't smiling Friday when a prosecutor played 11 minutes of damning outtakes of the infamous fish slaying -- which never aired on MTV's "Fraternity Life" series -- before Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Jeff Almquist sentenced them to 200 hours and 300 hours of community service, respectively. The hours are to be served working at either the county animal shelter or Long Marine Laboratory and at an institute for raising ornamental koi.

They also have to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, pay $500 restitution each to UCSC and send a written apology to the university professor who donated the fish to the koi pond. ...

Almquist stressed that MTV filmed the events, rented the frat house and provided the young men with two SUVs, mounted with automatic video cameras, that were used in the midnight May 20, 2003, raid of the pond at UCSC's Porter College.

"It's clear that these were a bunch of guys playing to the TV sets," Almquist said. "This act offended the entire community," he added, stressing that the frat members had "desecrated" the peaceful koi pond that students enjoyed as "a place of reflection." ...

Defense attorneys for the two men stressed that soon after the incident, before being charged, they went to campus officials to take responsibility and paid $650 for a replacement koi. ...

Almquist noted that Loop, speaking with his probation officer, compared the incident to "fishing out of season" and added that only in Santa Cruz would he be convicted of a crime.
It seems clear from this story that Judge Almquist's primary concern was that the community was offended by how Santa Cruz was portrayed on MTV. It was a harmless student prank.

Ordering restitution makes no sense because the boys had already paid restitution before they were arrested. It is also unconstitutional to order a defendant to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, when no secular option is offered. See, e.g., Griffin v. Coughlin (N.Y. 1996), among other cases. It is also inappropriate because the boys were not alcoholics. Hitting a fish with a beer bottle is not a symptom of alcoholism.

If MTV was so culpable in conspiring to get this fish, why wasn't MTV prosecuted?

Maybe I am reading too much into an isolated story, but I think that this tells us something about Judge Almquist's character. No sense of humor. Willing to violate constitutional rights. Punish someone for his attitude instead of what he actually did. Make a statement in order to please some overreaching prosecutor. Pick on the most defenseless party.


Anonymous said...

What was legal about stealing the fish? and given it was a reality TV show most likely MTV never planned the event but just filmed it.

George said...

So what did MTV think that it was filming? It is more likely that MTV scripted the whole thing. Very little of what is on TV is really spontaneous.