Orange County Commentary : Editorials : Courage on the Bench

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Orange County Superior Court Judge Leonard McBride made headlines last Tuesday, but he doesn’t think he did anything any other judge wouldn’t--or shouldn’t--do.

In what many court observers view as an unusual action, attorneys waived the penalty phase of a murder trial after McBride said he didn’t think the convicted killer deserved the death sentence.

We think the judge’s action was courageous, given the public attitude that heavily supports the death sentence and the vocal critics who are quick to label judges “too lenient.” It was also sensible. Even if the jurors had approved the death penalty, the judge would have had to overrule them, and it would have cost the jurors needless time and anguish and wasted taxpayers’ money.


McBride’s reasoning was sound. Before the penalty phase was to begin, he asked attorneys if additional evidence was forthcoming on the background of the 20-year-old man convicted of killing a shopkeeper during a robbery. None was. Based on the evidence, the provisions spelled out in the law for meting out the death penalty and the fact that the killer had no previous criminal record or history of violent behavior, McBride was convinced that the law and facts would not sustain the death penalty.

McBride doesn’t consider himself either lenient, because he refused to impose the death penalty, or strict, because in another case, he sentenced a man convicted of kidnaping and molesting a child to prison for 86 years. He says he just does what a judge is supposed to do--and that “there is a lot of judicial integrity around.”

He’s right.