Persecution vs. Prosecution

The case against young David Kernell needs adult supervision

When it comes to the Internet, the attitude too often is "can I do it" rather than "should I do it."

Download free music? Hell yeah. Watch bootleg movies. Sure. If you can do it, why not?

David Kernell is accused of guessing Sarah Palin's password, accessing her Yahoo e-mail account, and reading her personal e-mail. Is it wrong? Most assuredly. If guilty, should he be punished? Of course. Was he stupid? Yes.

When you were a college student, did you ever do anything stupid? When your kids were college students, did they ever do anything stupid? This matter should have been settled long ago, but it hasn't been settled because Gov. Sarah Palin was running for vice-president. I also suspect it has dragged on because David Kernell's father is long-time Democratic legislator state Rep. Mike Kernell from Memphis. All sorts of conspiracy theories are thus engendered.

Young Kernell is charged with identity theft. He's charged with wire fraud. He's charged with obstruction of justice. This laundry list of felonies was added after the fact. The charges are all out of proportion to the alleged act. The criminal justice system is supposed to be about just that—justice. It is not supposed to be used to make an example of people, to satisfy a political agenda, or to satisfy the passions of the mob.

Do we really want the feds deciding that logging on with someone else's name is identity theft?

This is not the crime of the century. Some level-headed adults need to sit down and work out a plea that involves a fine and community service and let the kid get on with his life. Gov. Palin resigned last week to get on with her life, and on the list of sins committed against her last year, this one ranks toward the bottom.

You will recall that young political operative Tyler Harber got access to the Republican Party chair's e-mails, including some to political columnists Georgiana Vines, Sandra Clark, and yours truly. He printed them out and turned them over to County Mayor Mike Ragsdale. In the ensuing scandal, the private e-mails were posted on the News Sentinel website.

The local district attorney couldn't find a crime and no one was ever arrested or charged. And the case also involved a county computer being used for political activities.

(Given the number of reported misdeeds in county government in recent years, one wonders if District Attorney General Randy Nichols could recognize a crime if it bit him in the butt.)

I don't agree with Mike Kernell politically, but he is one of the most respected members of the General Assembly. He is also one of the most long-serving representatives. He is vice-chair of the House Government Operations Committee. There is irony in the fact that his being a Democratic politician leads to the theory that this was some sort of Democratic plot to embarrass Palin. But because of the political implications of the case, he is handicapped in trying to help his son. Any move he makes to help could be misinterpreted.

If it were you or me, we would be jumping up and down on the prosecutor's desk and holding press conferences screaming about injustice toward our son. But Kernell has to stay hands-off and trust young David's attorney.

Another irony is that there is now a Democratic-controlled Justice Department. Kernell is being prosecuted by big guns from Washington. They may be reluctant to settle the case because of an "appearance of impropriety."

Kernell was originally charged with a misdemeanor. It was an appropriate charge.

The punishment should fit the crime. But the charge should reflect the crime.