L.A. Times Runs Series on St. Louis-born Judge's Weird Friendship with Crack Addict


Federal Judge Spencer Letts, a St. Louis native, is a quirky dude. - HTTP://WWW.FLICKR.COM/PHOTOS/FABLIAUX/ / CC BY-ND 2.0
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/fabliaux/ / CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Federal Judge Spencer Letts, a St. Louis native, is a quirky dude.
An estimable West-Coast paper is running a two-parter on a quirky federal judge (and St. Louis native) John Spencer Letts, who recently launched a private crusade to spring a crack offender from what he considered an unconscionable jail sentence.

Now, offender and judge are buddies -- the first L.A. Times piece opens with the gray-haired, 72-year-old Letts nervously canvassing skid row in search of his friend, who apparently had relapsed.

Letts was born in St. Louis in 1934, the article says, and was "the privileged son of a vice president at Prudential Insurance." There's no mention of where he went to high school (does anybody know? IT'S CRITICALLY IMPORTANT.)

Letts is, overall, an interesting guy. LA Times reporter Kurt Streeter writes that after President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the federal bench, Letts, an erstwhile corporate lawyer, was unaccustomed to street criminals and the courtroom in general:
At the courthouse, [Letts] spoke softly, tended to mumble, was prone to nervous laughter and would launch into asides on such subjects as the nature of time, the age of reason and the essential goodness of man.
Letts grew sickened by the harsh mandatory minimum laws being enacted in the 1980s. In one offender's case he even asked the Gipper for a presidential pardon (and was turned down).

He took an active interest in the drug offenders he put away, most especially Michael Banyard, who got 25 years for a small amount of crack, thanks to the three-strike law. The judge hired some private lawyers for the younger man, and managed to get him freed.

The second part of the series, we assume, will be running soon...

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