Judge violates sentencing guidelines on child porn conviction -- and orders FBI to cat-sit

Federal sentencing guidelines continue to serve as controversial flashpoints between the judiciary and the two elective branches of government.  They came in reaction to popular demand to keep recidivists in prison as well as to eliminate what some saw as biased sentencing based on social and economic status.  Judges dislike them because they reduce their ability to tailor sentencing to a much broader set of circumstances than the guidelines take into account.

However, a judgment yesterday in St. Paul shows why people demanded the guidelines in the first place:

Chief U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum surprised a courtroom full of federal agents, prosecutors and public defenders Tuesday when he sentenced a man who collected child pornography to less than half the recommended time behind bars.

He also ordered Assistant U.S. Attorney William Otteson to find someone to take care of the St. Paul man’s pet cat, “Mike.”

Rosenbaum has no love for child pornographers. Last May, he sentenced a 53-year-old Burnsville man to 750 years in prison for taking lascivious photographs of two young relatives and three of their friends and posting them to the Internet.

But he gave Frederick Kennedy-Hippchen, 63, just four years for collecting similar pictures.

That’s less than half of what sentencing guidelines recommend for the charges on which Kennedy-Hippchen was convicted.  The judge, however, dismissed the guidelines out of hand.  Why did Rosenbaum angrily deviate from the guidelines?  Because Kennedy-Hippchen loved his pets, only had a dial-up connection, and Rosenbaum was “reasonably comfortable he will not re-offend”.

Reasonably comfortable, eh?  Is that a new legal standard that overrides sentencing guidelines?

I’m not kidding about the pets, either.  Concerned that the defendant would commit suicide, Rosenbaum ordered him into immediate custody.  Kennedy-Hippchen told the judge he couldn’t go to prison that day because of his cat and goldfish.  Rosenbaum had a solution for that, too:

Rosenbaum asked Otteson if he could assure the court that the government could take care of the pets. After checking with FBI agents, Otteson said he could not, as he knew of nothing authorizing the FBI to do that.

“Oh yes you can,” Rosenbaum boomed. “You can take that on an emergency basis to the 8th Circuit [Court of Appeals] if you like,” he said. “Somebody’s got to take care of the animals!”

Someone has to investigate crimes and protect the nation from terrorists, too, and it won’t be Kitty-Cat and Goldie the goldfish.  Isn’t it more appropriate to have the defendant’s attorney make those arrangements than assigning federal protection to the pets of a convicted sex offender?  If Rosenbaum thinks that pet-sitting is the highest priority for federal agents, it explains why he decided to let Kennedy-Hippchen off with a light sentence for being inept at LimeWire, the file sharing service that the defendant tearfully denied knowing was a file-sharing service while he got child porn from other people’s computers.