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July 21, 2010

Wealthy sex offender reduces(?) prison sentence through plea deal giving $1.6 million (payoff?) to victim

I just came across this fascinating state sentencing story from The Oregonean, which is headlined "Portland multimillionaire pleads guilty to molesting neighbor boy, agrees to pay victim $1.6 million."  Here are the details of a story that raises a host of substantive and procedural sentencing issues:

A Portland multimillionaire who repeatedly molested a neighborhood boy has agreed to pay his victim $1.6 million and spend about nine years in prison.

The deal, approved Tuesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court, is unusual because most defendants haven't accumulated the wealth of Scott Raymond Strickland -- a former doctor and Alaska Airlines flight attendant, said Josh Lamborn, the civil attorney for the victim.  Until last year, Lamborn worked as a prosecutor, specializing in child sexual abuse cases, and he now represents victims of sexual abuse, among others.  "In my 13 years in the DA's office, I can count on one hand the people who have the kind of money Mr. Strickland has," Lamborn said.

Lamborn said the money will pay for a possible lifetime of counseling for his client, as well as compensate him for the damage from years of abuse by Strickland.  Recently, the victim told his girlfriend, then his mom, that Strickland had sexually abused him starting when he was 9 and ending at 15.

Lamborn largely negotiated the plea deal with Strickland and his attorneys, then sent the district attorney's office a letter on behalf of the victim.  He asked prosecutor Don Rees to sign off.

Rees said that in approving the deal, he took into account the victim's wishes and the victim's strong desire not to recount the abuse by testifying in a trial.  Strickland, who is now 56, didn't have a criminal history up until now.  What's more, Rees said defense attorney Scott Raivio presented "mitigating evidence" that indicated Strickland is unlikely to molest a child again.

By agreeing to pay the money and to spend what likely will amount to 8 1/2 years in prison, with time off for good behavior, Strickland may have avoided more prison. He was originally charged with multiple counts of first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree sodomy and other crimes -- and he likely faced a range between 8 1/3 years and 14 1/2 years in prison under Oregon sentencing guidelines if convicted.

But Strickland pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree sexual abuse and the lesser crime of attempted first-degree sodomy. He will be given an opportunity to speak at his sentencing hearing late next month. So will his victim and the victim's mother.

Judge Julie Frantz said Strickland must turn himself in to jail in about two weeks. The extra time between now and then will allow Strickland to liquidate his assets so he can pay the victim.

Strickland was arrested in January but released from jail a few weeks later because he posted the necessary 10 percent of his $4 million bail.  According to authorities, he was taken back into custody a short while later after trying to commit suicide by stabbing himself in the neck with an X-acto knife.  He was released a short while later, once a judge was convinced he was mentally stable.

In a hearing early this year, Strickland's attorney said his client worked as a doctor for 18 years in Minnesota. Records from the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice show he was forced to resign in 1999 for inappropriate behavior and for falsifying his specialty credentials to say he was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. He'd failed his examinations.

He then moved to Oregon to work as a flight attendant and instructor for Alaska Airlines, where he stayed for 10 years.

Strickland told authorities he was worth $2.5 million. After paying taxes and penalties, Lamborn said, most of Strickland's life's savings will go to his victim.

I have quoted the news report at length because this case reads like an exam question for not only a criminal sentencing course, but also a legal ethics exam.  Though I am not an expert on criminal justice ethics, is it really kosher for a former prosecutor, now representing a crime victim soon after he quit the DA's office, to negotiate a plea deal with his client's assailant and "then sen[d] the district attorney's office a letter on behalf of the victim [asking the] prosecutor ... to sign off" on the plea deal that he negotiated? 

As a technical matter, my legal ethics concerns perhaps turn on whether the arranged payment to the victim  — dare I say payoff?  — is styled as settlement of a possible civil suit or as restitution to be imposed as part of the formal criminal sentence.  Either way, the professional history of the "civil" lawyer putting together this deal makes this all seem a bit hinky.  (The ethical issues get even more dynamic if we reasonably assume that the former DA is getting a significant cut of the $1.6 million payment he has now secured for his client, and that the victim's parents played a significant role in the negotiations).

Legal ethics issues aside, I wonder what readers think about this story as a matter of pure sentencing.  If the juvenile victim indeed wants this criminal case to be resolved by a plea and all involved want monies going from the defendant to the victim, is there anything wrong with a significant prison time reduction being the glue that helps a plea deal stick?  (I am reminded of the Donte Stallworth DUI homicide case in which the family of the victim seemed more eager for an economic settlement than to see Stallworth serve a long prison term.)

Finally, should the sentencing analysis here as to a just prison term give any attention to the defendant's failed suicide attempt and/or his peculiar professional past?  As one always interested in (and unsure about) the proper role for offender characteristics at sentencing, this case is a doozy just on that front.

July 21, 2010 at 05:19 PM | Permalink

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I have met Dr. Scott and I hope he sees this comment, because all I have to say is, "Karma is a bitch Doc!".


Flight Attendant (not at Alaska)

Posted by: Patrick | Nov 24, 2014 1:12:05 PM

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