It's a rare thing when powerful people admit mistakes, rarer still when
they do it in open court from the bench. That's what U.S. Magistrate Judge
Peter Nowinski did recently.

The press of more urgent matters prevented us from commenting on this in a
more timely fashion, so a bit of background is in order. In late February,
a visibly angry Nowinski sentenced medical marijuana activist Jeff Jones to
three months in prison for handing out flyers to potential jurors in
support of a man charged with growing pot for medicinal purposes. The
presiding judge in that case, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell,
disqualified all 42 potential jurors in the initial jury pool because he
said they had had been contaminated. Although several protesters had handed
out pamphlets, only Jones, a nationally renowned advocate for medical
marijuana, was charged, prosecuted and convicted of attempting to influence
a trial.

After sentencing Jones to prison on Feb. 28, Nowinski said he thought about
it over the weekend and decided that his sentence was too harsh. Speaking
from the bench, Nowinski described a conversation he had with his
17-year-old son about changing his mind.

"People will think you are responding to the publicity in the newspaper,"
Nowinski says his son told him. "Won't that be embarrassing to you?"

"Yes, it will be embarrassing to me," the judge told a courtroom full of
surprised spectators, "but my feelings are not worth one day in jail for

With that explanation, Nowinski reduced the three-month prison sentence he
had imposed on Jones to three years probation.

Given an opportunity to speak by the judge, Jones offered his own very
profuse and sincere apologies for breaking the law and disrupting the
court. Two grown-ups acting like grown-ups: refreshing and notable.

Pubdate: Sat, 15 Mar 2003
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2003 The Sacramento Bee