After former Superintendent Rod Thompson pled guilty to 19 felonies last November, I wasn’t planning to write about him ever again. He finally admitted his guilt and was heading to jail. All that was left was the formality of the sentencing, which all parties had pretty much agreed would be two years in prison, so the story was coming to an end.
I had resigned myself to the fact that many questions would never be answered, such as how Thompson got away with his crimes for so long and who knew what was going on but chose to remain silent. Everyone I’ve talked to about the sentence thought two years was extremely lenient considering everything we’ve learned from the investigation and news reports.
I certainly thought the same. However, I do realize a lot of factors go into sentencing. I have three siblings who are attorneys, which is why I have a lot of respect for our legal system and, generally speaking, people who practice law. I’m reminded on occasion that legal decisions must be based on rationale and precedence, not emotion.
At the same time, some decisions seem so far removed from practicality that they make me question my faith in the system. Last week’s sentencing of Thompson is one of those occasions, which prompted me to write about him one last time.
I’m not so much irritated by the length of time he received for soliciting bribes — I think it’s too short but that was expected — as I am by the reasoning behind it. The judge claimed she gave him a light sentence, at least in part, because of the “extremely humiliating” press coverage about him and the fact he’ll have trouble finding a job in education again.
A person gets off easy because, after committing a series of felonies over the course of several years, he sabotaged his career and the press covered the story? Several days after the judge said this, I’m still shaking my head and wondering why press coverage should factor into his sentence. If anything, I wish the judge would have read some of the articles, realized the extent of the damage he caused our district, and taken a tougher approach. In fact, if it wasn’t for the investigative press coverage, it’s possible he’d still be our superintendent.
Thompson had a history of getting people in our district to sympathize with him and even vehemently defend him. Those people include some current school board members. I expected the judge to be different in light of all the evidence against him and the negative impact he’s had on our community, our teachers, and our students. That’s why it was disappointing for the judge to claim, “You have already suffered mightily for your misdeeds.”
Yes, he lost his job. Yes, his reputation is in ruins. But these are the direct result of his own actions, and he has only himself to blame. These are not victim-less crimes deserving of sympathy, especially when he denied accountability right up until he went to court last fall.
The sentencing judge also said, “Everyone’s life is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.” That’s true of course. Yet in Thompson’s case, this wasn’t a one-time bad decision. This was a multi-year, premeditated, deliberate scheme to commit a range of felonies to enrich himself at our district’s expense. This wasn’t out of character. This became his character.
I met Thompson several years ago and heard him speak a few other times, including the embarrassingly bad speech he gave at my son’s high school graduation nearly two years ago. He never struck me as a guy who wants to serve others, despite what he told the judge. Still, I truly hope that when he said he wants to turn out to be a redemption story, he was finally telling the truth.