“I’m sorry, Michael, I’m through, I’m finished. I can’t stand it anymore. I’m leaving you. I want a divorce. I love you. I always will. But I’m leaving you,” said Patricia Wellington to her husband of thirty years, Michael Wellington
Patricia Wellington stood in the middle of their living room in their lovely home in Westchester, New York, a beautiful place of rolling green hills topped with expensive homes. Theirs was one of the beautiful homes, full of memories of their children and their lives together. Patricia was 51 years old, auburn hair, brown eyes, still lovely, wearing a summer print dress.
She stood looking at Michael Wellington, seeing in her mind’s eye the tall, handsome young lawyer she had married thirty years ago, then seeing the man who had become a distinguished federal judge. She had been proud of him for so long, until he became a judge in the drug- enforcement division of the federal court system, ten years ago.
The trouble started when the Reagan administration passed the mandatory drug-sentencing laws and escalated the mad War on Drugs. Michael Wellington, the man she had loved so long, was destroying lives, destroying families, causing children to be put in foster homes. He was doing this when he sentenced hundreds of men and women of all ages to mandatory prison terms of ten years, twenty years, sometimes life-terms for smoking marijuana or growing it in their basements, in their cornfields, on their rooftops.
It was this that had been eating away at her — Patricia Wellington did not think that marijuana or cocaine users were criminals, but rather that her husband had become the criminal.
“But you can’t mean that Patty, you can’t, not over this, not over this marijuana evil,” pleaded Michael. “You know I have a job to do. You know smoking or growing marijuana is against the law. It’s my job to uphold the law, Patty. That’s my job. Even if I wanted to be lenient with marijuana users, which I don’t, my hands are tied. I didn’t make the laws. The laws force me to give these people mandatory sentences. Don’t you see that Patty, don’t you? Please don’t leave me over this.”
Patrician Wellington’s head dropped and shook from side to side in pain and sadness. This was the same argument they had been having for the last five years.
“Michael, if there was a law that put people in prison for smoking cigarettes or drinking beer, would you be sending those people to jail too? I smoke, Michael. Your son and daughter drink wine or gin sometimes. Would you put them in jail if that were the law, Michael?”
Michael Wellington looked into his wife’s eyes, and said with great sadness but firmness, “Yes, Patti, I would have to. It’s the law. Without law, Patti, there is no civilization. It is only the law that stands between us and anarchy. If I, a judge, don’t defend the law, who will? Don’t you see how important that is?”
“Michael,” said his wife, “there is a vast difference between law and justice. Law is supposed to uphold justice. Justice is far more important than law. Michael, every monstrous totalitarian regime in history has had laws, thousands of laws. Every tyranny on the face of the Earth has enslaved its people with laws. The Nazis had such laws. The Soviets had thousands of laws. And all those laws were used to enforce the State’s tyranny.”
“Michael, there is something far more important than the law. Have you ever asked yourself if the laws you defend are just? Have you ever asked if our government has the right to imprison someone for smoking a marijuana cigarette or taking cocaine for personal use?”
“Have you ever asked yourself whether your government has the right to tell someone what he can or cannot smoke, especially if he harms no one but himself, Michael? Isn’t the law supposed to protect people from violence or fraud by others? Isn’t the law only supposed to punish people who physically hurt others, and this hurt has to be proved to a jury in court?
Who does a person hurt who smokes marijuana, Michael? Where is the victim the law requires for a crime? If he hurts himself, so what? Doesn’t a person have the right to hurt himself? Don’t we own our bodies, Michael? Don’t I have the right to eat what I want, smoke what I want, drink what I want? Who is any politician sitting on his pseudo-moral high horse to tell me, or you, or anyone else they can’t? These are the same slimy, hypocritical politicians who used drugs when they were young, and who tax and regulate us to death. How dare they presume to dictate my personal behavior or the behavior of anyone else. How dare they?”
“But you, Michael, you refuse to see the difference between law and justice, between a law passed by a stupid, power-hungry politician, and what is right. The law is supposed to protect our inalienable rights, not some politician’s twisted opinions he wants to shove down everyone’s throat. These politicians we elect are supposed to be our agents, not our masters.
Michael, the Nazi judges who were tried and hung at the Nuremberg trials, they said the same things you say. The same things, Michael. They said they were judges, that they were only “following orders.” They said they had a “duty” to follow the laws, the Nazi’s laws, Hitler’s laws, to sentence innocent Germans to prison, shot by a firing squad, or gassed in the chambers by the millions.
These judges said the same thing, Michael. They gave the same excuse. May they rot in hell. They were cowards, Michael. They valued their job and their power more than the lives of the innocent people they destroyed in their courtrooms. It was these judges, Michael, these supposed defenders of the law, Nazi law, who should have known better.”
“You think things are that different in American today? Michael, I have contempt for drug-court judges and prosecutors. They are narrow-minded men who don’t see beyond their noses. They see a law passed and, like robots, automatically defend the law in their courtrooms. They don’t judge the law with their conscience. They don’t care about the injustice of the laws or the lives they destroy with their actions. A judge’s duty is to follow the law, but if the law is monstrous, they should quit their jobs. In principle, drug-court judges are not that different than the Nazi judges who sent thousands of innocent people to prison or their deaths. Their crimes against humanity are only of a lesser degree.”
Michael Harrington’s face turned white, his eyes had a look of total shock. He had heard his wife’s arguments before. But never had she accused him of being like Nazi judges. It rocked him, and something inside him believed her. But something else, something stronger, shut down in him, drawing in, pulling him into a dark cave in his mind. He became furious, murderously furious with his wife for the first time in thirty years.
“Are you saying I’m a murderer, Patricia, that I’m no better than the Nazi judges they tried and executed in the Nuremberg trials? Do you think I should be prosecuted for murder, Patricia? Is that what you are saying? If that is the way you feel, then I think you are right. We should be divorced.”
“Michael,” said his wife, just as furious, “I am saying that what you are doing is evil. Evil, Michael. You hide behind the law. You say it is your duty to uphold these evil laws. So, until and unless you stop doing this, to me you are evil. I’m so sorry to say this because I don’t want to. But I cannot live with you anymore.”
“I cannot live with a man who sentences people to twenty years in prison for smoking a marijuana cigarette, people who might need that cigarette to treat their nausea from cancer chemotherapy. There are thousands of cancer patients in excruciating pain because chemotherapy makes them violently nauseous, and marijuana is the only thing that can stop the nausea. Yet the law stops them from using marijuana.
I cannot live with a man whose decisions condemn cancer victims to this pain or to die drowning in their own vomit from their nausea. I cannot live with a man who destroys families by sending mothers or fathers to prison for twenty years for smoking a lousy joint of marijuana or taking cocaine once in a while. I cannot live with a man who thinks more of politician’s laws than of justice. That is all I have to say, Michael.”
With that, she turned stiffly and walked out the door of the beautiful house she had lived in for thirty years, away from the man she had once loved.