June 29, 2009
"Extraordinarily Evil"
Posted by Jayne Barnard

A few more thoughts about the Madoff sentencing this morning.  At 9:56, Bernie Madoff entered the courtroom looking like an old, old man.  He actually seemed to be doddering in.  When the hearing was completed, he gave a brisk nod to his lawyer, Ira Sorkin, then smartly walked -- very business-like -- out of the courtroom.  He actually seemed transformed.  Maybe it is some perverse source of relief to know that you're going away forever and ever instead of just forever.

For the victims, though, there was little euphoria.  Only a few people in the courtroom shouted when the sentence was announced.  Judge Chin had discouraged the allocutors from complaining about the SEC or the SIPC trustee.("This is not the time to criticize the government.")  He also made clear he had no authority to sentence Madoff to a particularly odious prison. 

There was talk, of course, about Madoff's marriage.  One victim said "I have a marriage made in heaven.  You have a marriage made in hell."  No, said Madoff, "I lied to my wife ... and she still stands by me."  You think she is "silent and not sympathetic.  That's not true." "

The most powerful voice in the room was that of Judge Denny Chin in a closely-scripted but emotionally resonant ruling.  He cited the many middle-class victims of Madoff's fraud -- a theme deftly created by the U.S. Attorney's Office.  He recounted the story of a widow who had gone to Madoff's office to thank him for protecting her family's weatlh.  "You're safe," Madoff assured her.   Judge Chin noted the many decisions victims had made -- sometimes for decades -- based on their mistaken belief in Bernie Madoff.   

I was present in the courtroom primarily to observe the victim allocution.  Some of the allocutors could be faulted for being a little star-struck ("when I was being interviewed by Katie Couric.....") but all of them were candid, poetic, and powerful advocates for their position. No one's time was wasted by listening to 45 minutes of victim allocution. 

In the end, Judge Chin rejected Sorkin's suggesion that there was "something absurd" about a 150-year sentence.  Not in this case.  Not for a crime as "extraordinarily evil" as this one.

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