Originally created 11/09/99

Public trust violated



U.S. District Judge G. Ernest Tidwell is putting the squeeze on state Sen. Diana Harvey Johnson, D-Savannah, to get her out of office, as well he should.

The woman violated her public trust, yet due to a quirk in Georgia law that lets legis-lators stay in office even after they've been convicted of a crime, she still clings desperately to the office she disgraced.

Johnson was found guilty last July on five counts of mail fraud for funneling about $80,000 in state tourism funds to her consulting business. Because she still refuses to admit her wrongdoing -- much less apologize for it -- the judge could, and maybe should, have sentenced her to the max: 25 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine. It's clear the only thing she's sorry about was being caught.

The sentence she got, after whining, complaining and screaming at prosecutors for having the audacity to prosecute her in the first place, was a 41-month prison stretch, a $7,500 fine and an order to pay $21,606 in restitution.

But to encourage her departure from the Senate before exhausting all her appeals, Tidwell is moving to force her to resign as a condition of allowing her to remain free during her appeals. Currently, she is on leave without pay and cannot participate in any official duties of her office.

In fact, her only point in staying is pure selfishness, because as long as she clings to her Senate seat, she deprives her constituents of representa-tion in the General Assembly.

Even more shocking than Johnson's emotional, combative behavior in court were the number of character witnesses she recruited, like state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, and former Rep. George Brown, D-Augusta.

They didn't just stand up for Johnson's "character" -- they also bought her denial that she did no wrong, and she was being "persecuted" for political and racial reasons. This, despite the fact the judge said the evidence against her was "overwhelming."

Small wonder so many Americans are turned off by politics. How can they have confidence in a system where many politicians condone corruption and cronyism? The Diana Harvey Johnson episode makes us appreciate, though, those men and women who enter public service and perform it selflessly, honestly and to the best of their ability.