Some judges make sentences larger than the sentencing guidelines, and one judge in particular makes them smaller – Senior U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis. Ellis, an extremely conservative judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan, is an erratic sentencer, often not following the guidelines at all.
On Thursday, he sentenced Paul Manafort to a forty-seven-month sentence, asserting that the defendant, someone who has been engaged in all kinds of crimes for most of his adult life, “has lived an otherwise blameless life.” The guidelines suggested a sentence in the 19 to 24 year range, and many are surprised by the extremely low sentence. Reportedly, Manafort’s attorneys argued for the low end of the spectrum, 5.5 to 6.5 years.
Make no mistake, Ellis knows how to throw kitchen sinks at defendants. One need only ask former Democratic Congressman William J. Jefferson about how harshly Ellis can sentence people. Jefferson, a black man, was convicted of bribery after a corruption investigation. Ellis was the sentencing judge, and sentenced Jefferson to 13 years in prison for his crimes.
In the Manafort case, Ellis found the guidelines excessive, and as many have noted, dropping so severely below them is highly unusual and questionable. In addition, Ellis, despite having a defendant before him who had pleaded guilty or was found guilty of tons of charges, noted that Manafort was “not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence this election.”
Manafort is not finished yet. He faces sentencing for conspiracy charges by Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who will decide if the sentences run consecutively or concurrently. We shall see what Judge Jackson does with this and how her sentence comes out.
An excellent book written in 2017 by Jesse Eisinger, “The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives,” describes why prosecutors are too “chickenshit” to try to bring white collar executives to justice. This latest sentence supports the notion: prosecutors have trouble obtaining convictions of these executives with courts and judges often considering the crimes committed to have been victimless and don’t see the defendants as dangerous or true criminals, and look not to the content of their character but to the color of their skin and wallets. Today’s sentence is an open invite for white collar criminals to continue fleecing the public with impunity.