An aid to U.S. Congressman John Conyers received a warning on Monday after accidentally bringing a firearm into a Detroit federal courthouse back in May, raising serious questions about whether the law applies equally to all of those who violate it. See, unlike other individuals who also made similar mistakes, Conyers’ aid, Betty Petrenz, was arguably let off the hook.
Petrenz, who allegedly forgot she had a loaded gun in her purse, received a ticket and was recommended for pretrial diversion, a form of probation that allows one to forgo jail time or fines if he/she stays out of trouble for a specified period of time.
As mentioned, previous offenders who unintentionally brought guns into a federal building weren’t so lucky. The Detroit Free Press pointed out the following cases:
One woman — a clerk who worked at the courthouse for more than two decades — was fired last year after security officers discovered a gun in her purse.
A male law clerk for U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn agreed to resign after a gun was found in his briefcase last year.
Another woman, a real estate agent who was headed to bankruptcy court and had a gun in her purse (she had just shown a property), was criminally charged. Her gun permit had expired. She eventually got diversion.
Critics have questioned whether Rep. Conyers’ history as a staunch pro-gun control advocate or his political affiliation played a role in the leniency of Petrenz’s punishment. Coyners’ has an “F” rating with the National Rifle Association.
“Children are literally suspended from school for bringing gun-shaped pop tarts to school, yet this Democratic clerk gets off scott-free,” a commentor wrote on the conservative website Rare, referencing the case of eight-year-old Joshua Welch who was suspended from school for chewing a pre-baked toaster pastry into the shape of a gun.
However one court official was quick to shoot down claims that there was any preferential treatment, noting that the specifics of each case were different.
“Each circumstance was different,” Court Administrator David Weaver told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s not one size fits all. You have to look at the situation and the person. Different decisions were made based on the information available.”
Otis Culpepper, Petrenz’s attorney, argued that the probationary punishment was fair, emphasizing that it was an honest mistake and that she is an otherwise law-abiding gun owner.
“She completely and inadvertently brought the thing in,” Culpepper said. “That was the offer and she accepted. I think it’s fair.”
All things considered, maybe the pretrial diversion is an appropriate punishment. But Court Administrator Weaver brought up an interesting point, that is, court employees who run afoul with the law are typically disciplined by their bosses. In the case of Judge Cohn’s law clerk, Cohn took it upon himself to punish his employee.
“He left by mutual agreement and it was amicable,” said Cohn, who declined to elaborate to the Detroit Free Press.
So, in this particular case, shouldn’t the same standard apply to Petrenz and Conyers? Shouldn’t Conyers take it upon himself to discipline his employee, i.e. fire her? Shouldn’t she be held to a higher standard because she is a political aid to a U.S. Congressman and not the average joe?
Food for thought, anyhow.
Conyers, his staff and Petrenz did not return calls or emails for comment, according to the Detroit Free Press.