Becoming a federal judge is the dream of a lifetime for many, but it does have its downsides. Those downsides could include something like the lack of ability to advocate for causes you care about, or they might involve dissatisfaction with aspects of the position itself.
For former federal district court judge Kevin Sharp, it might be a bit of both. After joining the bench in 2011, he left for a private firm last week. He will be establishing a Nashville office for that firm, and told the New York Law Journal that he was excited to join the firm, where he could focus on pursuing civil rights cases.
The day after he left, however, he gave an interview denouncing one of the most contentious things about federal jurisprudence: mandatory minimum sentences.
He has talked about his concerns in the past, “Each defendant is supposed to be treated as an individual,” he said during a 2014 sentencing hearing. “I don’t think that’s happening here.”
The case involved a 25-year-old repeat drug offender who was accused of non-violent drug trafficking, although he did have a gun. Due to mandatory minimum sentences required by Congress, Judge Sharp had to sentence him to prison for life.
“If there was any way I could have not given him life in prison I would have done it,” he told USA TODAY. “What they did was wrong, they deserved some time in prison, but not life.”
Young still wishes he could get the young man’s sentence commuted.
He also felt stymied when probationers accused a private probation company, PCC, of punishing them when they could not, as opposed to would not, pay. A general sessions judge from Rutherford County testified in the case that “money makes the world go ’round.”
“I thought, Oh my God, no,” Sharp remembers thinking. “Money is not what makes the justice system go round. That’s not just morally wrong, it’s illegal. It’s unconstitutional.”
PCC’s probation contract with Rutherford County has now ended, but the issue remains. As a private attorney, Sharp may be in a position to advocate for change.
His position on the federal district court will be filled by a Trump appointee.
Additional source: ABA Journal, “Federal judge steps down and denounces mandatory minimum sentences,” Debra Cassens Weiss, April 17, 2017