[guest post by Dana]
In a court filing by federal prosecutors yesterday, it was recommended that Hollywood actress Felicity Huffman, who was caught up in what has been dubbed the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal, should serve one month in jail and pay a $20,000 fine. This in spite of the fact that under federal sentencing guidelines, prosecutors could have asked for anywhere up to six months of jail time for Huffman:
In the filing, the prosecutors wrote to the judge in the case that Huffman’s conduct was “deliberate and manifestly criminal.”
They recommended that, after spending a month in jail, she should also have a year of supervised release.
“In the context of this case, neither probation nor home confinement (in a large home in the Hollywood Hills with an infinity pool) would constitute meaningful punishment or deter others from committing similar crimes,” the prosecutors wrote.
They added that Huffman’s “efforts weren’t driven by need or desperation, but by a sense of entitlement, or at least moral cluelessness, facilitated by wealth and insularity.”
“Millions of parents send their kids to college every year. But they don’t buy fake SAT scores and joke about it (“Ruh Ro!”) along the way,” they added, referring to an email Huffman wrote in 2017.
Huffman’s attorney’s countered:
…Huffman’s attorneys requested the judge sentence her to a one-year term of probation and 250 hours of community service. She would also pay the $20,000 fine called for in her guilty plea, they said.
Huffman wrote a letter of remorse to the judge, and attempted to explain what motivated her bad decision-making, culminating with this:
“In my desperation to be a good mother I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot. I see the irony in that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair. I have broken the law, deceived the educational community, betrayed my daughter, and failed my family.”
She also described how her daughter, who is alleged to have not known about her mother’s actions, reacted when she found out about it:
“When my daughter looked at me and asked me with tears streaming down her face, ‘Why didn’t you believe in me? Why didn’t you think I could do it on my own?’ I had no adequate answer for her. I could only saw, ‘I am sorry. I was frightened and I was stupid.’ In my blind panic, I have done the exact thing that I was desperate to avoid. I have compromised my daughter’s future, the wholeness of my family and my own integrity.”
Taking her letter at face-value, she is remorseful and repentant, and fully owns her bad decision. She is the face of contrition, which is the most that anyone can hope for. While her decision can’t be undone, her moral character can recover. While it is true that parents will go to extraordinary lengths to help their children and protect them from all sorts of things, Huffman’s daughter was not facing any threat or duress from which she needed protecting. This was an effort to get her daughter into college. Huffman claimed that she agonized over her decision for six months, and yet during those six months, she chose to stay the course. Huffman’s actions reflected that she was willing to forsake moral character because she overvalued a college education. Huffman discusses in her letter that her daughter was “diagnosed with learning disabilities,” and that this was a way to get her into one of the colleges she was interested in. However, rather than having her daughter’s best interests at heart and realistically encouraging her to attend a community college and take the necessary remedial courses to improve her test scores, or explaining to her that sometimes life doesn’t go the way we want, and that perhaps her dream of being a theater major at a particular college just wasn’t in the cards for her, she used her money and influence to buy the easy way out – for both of them. Parenting, good parenting is the hardest thing in the world to do. Ironically, it relies wholly upon the moral character and integrity of people who are highly fallible and fallen from grace, and who will inevitably make decisions that do not reflect the highest of virtues. None of us are exempt. At the end of the day, Huffman’s saga not only demonstrates a parent doing that which is not in the best interest of one’s child, but it is also a cautionary tale that everything done in the dark will eventually be exposed to the light, and with that exposure comes devastation and the potential for irreparable harm to the very people whose best interests we thought we were acting upon.
The sentencing hearing will take place on September 13.
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)