A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of discussing both federal sentencing, generally, and my sentence, in particular, with Judge Richard G. Kopf from the District of Nebraska. Judge Kopf sentenced me back in 1998. He is now on senior status and in his free time, he blogs at Hercules and the Umpire.
When Judge Kopf sentenced me, he believed that my claim to change was all talk. He said he was wrong. And that his sentencing instincts suck (his words, not mine).
I remarked that even though I had meant what I said, I was not in the frame of mind to back it up. I then explained why I had made real change in prison, when so few others do.
I made it because I grew up and because I received a large dollop of God’s grace in the form of: 1) a loving family that never gave up on me; 2) finding the law and helping others through the law, which gave me purpose; 3) a beautiful woman who encouraged me (and I later married once I was released); and 4) some gracious lawyers at WilmerHale who mentored me and pushed me to dream big (my original dream was to become a paralegal, not law school, and definitely not a future clerk on the DC Circuit).
I enjoyed the back and forth with Judge Kopf. I’ve never harbored any ill will towards him. How could I? Heck, he gave me a sentence at the low end of the Sentencing Guideline range at a time when the Guidelines were mandatory. And I think sentencing defendants would be an incredibly difficult job.
Apparently, it is not often that a former federal prisoner makes small talk with a current federal judge, especially when it is the judge that sentenced the prisoner. As a result, our discussion made some waves around the legal blogosphere. See Josh Blackman Blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, ABA Journal, Empty Wheel, and The Legal Reformer.
I hope our conversation will lead to further ones, as I think it is healthy for federal judges to open up about sentencing.