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Editorial: Court’s caution on Lokken justified

Unless we’re dramatically misreading the judge’s comments late last week about Larry Lokken’s bid for an early release, he doesn’t appear to be going home soon. That’s as it should be.

Judge Jon Theisen didn’t formally rule on the motion, and that seems appropriate as well. Lokken appeared without an attorney and Theisen had concerns about whether Lokken understood the nature of the hearing. If he didn’t understand that, he may not have been able to waive his right to counsel with full knowledge of the implications that would have.

Theisen’s concern for the rule of law and the right of someone in a court proceeding to be represented by someone who knows the law and how court hearings operate is exactly what we should all expect from judges. That’s true even, perhaps especially, in cases like this. Lokken isn’t a defendant anymore. He’s a convict. He pleaded no contest to stealing more than $625,000 from Eau Claire County, though the full amount between him and his former deputy is in the millions. And he is in the midst of a 9 ½-year sentence for doing so.

Odious as Lokken’s actions were, there are certain fundamental rights in the United States that simply cannot be tossed aside. One of those is that anyone involved in the court system has the right to be represented by a competent attorney if they choose to be so represented. If there’s a question about whether a waiver of that right was made with full understanding of what it might entail, the judge is right to hit pause and give time to reconsider.

Lokken’s request for a geriatric release seemingly got a boost in May, when the Department of Corrections’ Program Review Committee looked favorably on it. The committee concluded “public interest would be served” by granting Lokken’s petition, citing his age, the fact his crime was not violent, and his lack of a previous criminal history.

Frankly, as we said shortly after the committee’s recommendation, we think they got it wrong. So, based on a number of comments and complaints we got after that story ran, do a substantial number of people in the community.

Lokken, unsurprisingly, isn’t one of them. His petition was the first time he took any sort of responsibility for his actions, and it was hardly convincing. He claimed he “was in denial” about his actions when he was first convicted, and only now had come to understand “I have culpability.” That’s not exactly a full and frank admission, given the shading possible in the word culpability.

Lokken also said he would be able to restore his reputation in the community if released and that he could be a productive member of the Eau Claire community. If that’s his assessment of his standing after his arrest, trial, conviction and failure to make even a modest effort at restitution, his denial about his true situation has lasted a lot longer than he claims.

As we said before, we don’t blame Lokken for asking. Prison, even in a place with far fewer constraints than those in a maximum security facility, isn’t pleasant. We’ve heard of few inmates who want to extend their stays beyond what is absolutely required.

But the claims that Lokken would be welcomed with open arms, that he could waltz back into Eau Claire and be immediately accepted as having even a fraction of his previous standing, simply aren’t realistic. Not when he makes only the most cursory nod toward recompense, only to boast to the committee of having “a solid financial plan” for after his release — a plan based on assets he knows full well are immune to seizure or garnishment.

Theisen’s assessment of the situation seems to us to be spot on. Lokken’s petition is simply unpersuasive. He seemingly continues to rely on manipulation, a mask of contrition rather than the real thing.

But the charade appears to be over. It comes down now to a judge’s view of Lokken’s actions, current and past. And, based on what Theisen said last week, he’s not impressed with what he sees.

— From the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

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