Put Sue Schmitz to work

Published 11:15 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A day of reckoning has arrived for convicted former state Rep. Sue Schmitz, who was removed from her Madison County legislative post in February for collecting a salary from a federally funded youth program and doing little or nothing to earn it.

Schmitz, D-Toney, faces a sentencing hearing tomorrow before a federal judge.

Will she be imprisoned for years or face probation, fines and restitution? Or all of the above?

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Schmitz’s attorneys and prosecutors from the U.S. attorneys office will pitch their punishment recommendations in a U.S. District Court in Decatur.

The maximum sentence would be 100 years and $1.75 million in fines. Federal prosecutors are seeking four years imprisonment, $177,252 in restitution to the state and another $177,252 in fines to the U.S. government.

Attorneys for Schmitz, 64, countered with a request for probation, community service and possible home detention.

As much as this newspaper has championed the call for tough sentencings and honest government, we think a long jail sentence would not be reasonable under the circumstances.

Certainly, Schmitz did wrong. A jury ruled so and she should be punished for her crime. We applaud the government for taking a hard line on so-called “double dipping” legislators who use their position to get another paid state job for which they may have cheated on their hours.

But would imprisonment, in this case, be the wisest use of government resources? Could a strict house arrest along with restitution, fines and an order for extensive community service be more prudent?

Schmitz taught for 17 years at Sparkman High School where she was twice named Madison County teacher of the year. She led class field trips to Montgomery and helped develop a program for high school students to instill knowledge about the U.S. Constitution. She has experience working with “at risk” youth and with community-based programs that could help redirect them from bad choices that could ultimately land them in jail.

We understand prosecutors’ frustrations that Schmitz has never acknowledged wrongdoing even after the jury spoke. And we agree with their assessment that a stiff sentence should deter corruption in Montgomery.

Schmitz has already lost both jobs along with having to endure the shame and humiliation of two highly publicized trials. A strict house arrest along with restitution, fines and an order for extensive community service would have the twin benefit of saving money while returning a benefit to society.

—Huntsville Times