Do Your Job
So last Thursday night I met two people for dinner and was - as usual - running late.
They were into their cocktails by the time I arrived so I headed straight to the bar, where the bartender smiled.
“Would you like a drink?” he asked, knowing the answer.
Does a bear, I started to respond and then stopped myself.
“Yes, please,” I replied.
When he brought my beverage to the table the bartender paused.
“Well, the newspaper lost another subscriber this week.”
“You?” I asked.
“No, my mother,” he said, telling me that she’s in her 80s, had subscribed to the paper forever but was frustrated because the carrier had started tossing it on her walk rather than on her porch.
He said his mother phoned customer service but the person on the line told her that carriers were only required to get the newspaper to a walkway, not to the porch.
His mom reminded the customer service rep in Kuala Lumpur or wherever that she’d subscribed for decades, was not young, always tipped her carrier at Christmas, and didn’t want to fetch the paper from all the way down the walk. Especially not in winter.
The newspaper was on her porch the next morning. Back on the walk the next.
So she cancelled.
And this is how it will end for newspapers. People will stop subscribing not only because papers lean left or (rarely) right, but also because customer service has become an oxymoron.
In other words, people are not doing their jobs.
Back to our favorite bartender.
“So what do you think about that judge in Norfolk? “ he asked.
Ah, Judge Everett Martin. The circuit court judge who’s in the news because he told a prosecutor to stop playing lawmaker by enforcing only the statutes her boss finds appealing.
Do your job, he told her.
Seems Norfolk’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Underwood dislikes the commonwealth’s marijuana laws.
So do I, by the way.
He’s decided to essentially legalize pot in Norfolk by ordering his underlings not to prosecute misdemeanor offenders.
Yet the police continue to arrest folks on marijuana charges, which seems to be an awkward, counter-productive situation in Norfolk.
The Virginian-Pilot summed it up this way:
Ashonti Thomas, a 24-year-old Chesapeake man, had been convicted in a lower court and, on Tuesday, he went to the higher Circuit Court to appeal that conviction.
Prosecutor Kate Flora, acting on Underwood’s new directive to drop all Circuit Court misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, told Judge Everett Martin she wanted to drop the charge…
Martin asked Flora why she wanted to drop the charge, which led her to cite Underwood’s policy.
The judge replied that the General Assembly makes laws, not commonwealth’s attorneys, according to several people familiar with the court hearing.
Martin denied the prosecutor’s motion and set a trial date for February.
Like Underwood, I, too am in favor of legalizing or at least decriminalizing marijuana. (As long as politicians don’t raise my taxes down the road to help support a new crop of potheads who want to smoke dope and not work, that is.)
But it doesn’t matter what we want.
Pot is illegal in Virginia. Under federal law, too.
Only the General Assembly can fix Virginia’s statutes, but despite a lot of bloviation and a general acknowledgment that African Americans are more likely to be punished for possession of marijuana than white people, legislators haven’t acted.
Bills aimed at decriminalization died in committee this session.
I imagine some applaud Underwood’s activism. He’s doing God’s work, letting those who break the marijuana laws in Norfolk get away with it.
Hold on a minute. Let’s think this through.
Suppose there’s a prosecutor somewhere in Virginia who roughs up his wife. Secretly or subconsciously he sympathizes with husbands who do the same and decides to go easy on domestic abusers.
Would we like that?
Or suppose a prosecutor, who was once stopped on suspicion of drunk driving - he blew through a work zone and when stopped by a state trooper had a “strong odor of alcohol” about him, was slurring and swaying and even admitted he’d been drinking but refused a breathalyzer test - decided to go easy on drunken drivers.
Would that be a good thing?
I don’t believe Norfolk’s prosecutor is soft on drunks, but this was Underwood in October 2013. He was charged with DUI. He was convicted some months later of refusal and improper driving. He lost his driver’s license for a year. Yet he was re-elected. Norfolk voters - like their counterparts in Virginia Beach - have a habit of returning scofflaws to office.
Prosecutors don’t make the laws. In fact, they take an oath to uphold them. They can, however, lobby lawmakers to repeal marijuana prohibitions. So can voters.
But prosecutors who enforce only laws they like aren’t doing their jobs.
Just as customer service reps who tell a loyal customer to retrieve her own dang newspaper aren’t doing theirs.