The John McGee jail sentence revolves around two key points.
• The first is timing. Eight months after his Father’s Day 2011 drunken-driving arrest — and while he was on probation, stemming from a guilty plea — McGee committed a crime described, charitably, as disturbing the peace. Prosecutors say he made “sexually provocative” comments to a 25-year-old state Senate staffer.
• The second is the setting. This took place in a workplace — in the halls of the Statehouse, where McGee was the No. 4 ranking Republican in the Senate, before the staffer’s sexual harassment complaint came to light, resulting in McGee’s abrupt resignation. McGee was in a position of power, not just in politics but in the professional environment of the Senate. He abused that power.
These facts were not lost on Magistrate Judge James Cawthon, who presided over McGee’s sentencing Tuesday, 13 months after accepting his guilty plea on the drunken-driving charge. The judge clearly had no appetite for apology. So he sentenced McGee to 88 days in jail. Even if this sentence is halved, which is within Cawthon’s discretion, it would greatly exceed the five-day sentence recommended by prosecutors and McGee’s attorney.
Keeping with the no-nonsense order of the day, Cawthon had McGee booked into jail immediately, instead of granting him a few days to sort out his affairs.
Cawthon went his own way, for the right reasons.
“McGee’s act of “disturbing the peace” — not to be confused with, say, a pulsating car stereo — violated the basic bounds of workplace decency and decorum. McGee, 39, grew up and entered the labor force at a time of heightened awareness of sexual harassment issues. How did this guy miss the memo?
After McGee basically groveled before his Senate colleagues in January — convincing them to vote, not unanimously, to keep him in leadership — it is now apparent why he wanted to keep his job. No wonder Cawthon dropped the hammer. Good for him.
Perhaps, but perhaps not, Cawthon was sufficiently forceful that McGee will get the message. But on Tuesday, when he had the chance to apologize to his victim, McGee instead spoke about himself, and his failure to live up to the “privilege” of Senate service.
What misplaced priorities. Somehow I doubt McGee will never again have to worry about living up to the “privilege” that comes with elected office.