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Light Sentence for Child Molester Leaves Vermont Judge Under Fire

Judge Edward Cashman should be the darling of conservatives: a churchgoer, a former prosecutor, a Vietnam vet and a member of the bench known for his hard-line stands: A decade ago he jailed for 41 days the parents of a suspect in a rape case because they refused to cooperate with prosecutors.

In the past few days, though, Cashman has been vilified by conservatives on TV and on blogs. On Fox News, Bill O'Reilly told viewers as video of Cashman rolled: "You may be looking at the worst judge in the USA." And several Vermont Republican lawmakers have demanded he resign or be impeached.

The reason: Cashman sentenced a child molester to just 60 days of jail time — a sentence he said was designed to ensure the man got prompt sex-offender treatment but critics say was too soft.

"As far as we're concerned, Cashman's district can hereby be considered a predator's sanctuary," wrote the Caledonian Record newspaper of St. Johnsbury. "As long as judges like Ed Cashman are allowed to sit on Vermont benches, children cannot be considered safe."

Cashman has been unswayed: "I am aware that the intensity of some public criticism may shorten my judicial career," he wrote in a memorandum this week. "To change my decision now, however, simply because of some negative sentiment, would be wrong."

The firestorm erupted last week when Cashman sentenced Mark Hulett, 34, for having sexual contact with a girl, beginning when she was 6, over a four-year period.

The Corrections Department had concluded that Hulett was unlikely to commit another such offense, and Vermont does not provide sex-offender treatment to such inmates until they reach the end of their jail time.

Cashman said he would have imposed more jail time — a three-year minimum — if the state promised treatment while Hulett was jailed.

"The solution to these concerns requires quick and effective treatment," the judge wrote. He also noted that Hulett tested at a borderline intelligence level, has the emotional maturity of a 12- to 14-year-old and did not understand why others were so upset by his actions.

Republican Gov. James Douglas said Thursday the judge should consider resigning. He condemned the 60-day sentence as insensitive to the victim and her family.

"When a grown man rapes a small child, justice is only served when the criminal is behind bars — for a long time — paying for his inexcusable crime," the governor said.

On Wednesday, the Correction Department reversed course and said it would allow Hulett to be treated immediately, in hopes Cashman would impose a longer sentence. Prosecutors planned to file a request Friday asking the judge to do so. Apart from the memorandum, Cashman has refused to comment on the furor, citing judicial ethics.

In sentencing Hulett to 60 days, Cashman warned the defendant would get life behind bars if he failed to undergo treatment or comply with other conditions, including a prohibition against alcohol or living in an apartment complex that allows children.

But the focus fell on the jail time. Calls and e-mails of outrage poured into the Statehouse and the governor's office. Letters to the editor filled newspapers. On Thursday the state's largest newspaper, The Burlington Free Press, called on Cashman to resign.

Cashman, 62, is a big, burly, balding and bearded figure, and a strait-laced ex-military man. Soon after he was appointed to the Vermont District Court bench in 1982 by a Republican governor, Cashman and his wife dropped out of their square dancing group because he feared it was unjudgelike.

"I can't do the same things everyone else does," he said in an interview several years ago, describing the life of a judge as monk-like.

State Sen. Richard Sears, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wondered if such distancing led to the sentencing decision. "Have we isolated our judiciary so much that they can't see what public reaction (would be) to a sentence like that?" he asked.

Cashman's early years as a judge were marked by complaints that he was insensitive to the concerns of female victims of abuse and that he unfairly favored fathers in custody cases. But those concerns seemed to have vanished by 2001 when Cashman won a new six-year term by a legislative vote of 137-15.

Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, a Republican who is also a prosecutor, said the criticism that Cashman is a lenient judge and should be thrown out of office is "contrary to his judicial philosophy and career."

"Over the years, if there's been criticism of Judge Cashman, it has been he has been overly harsh on offenders when it comes to sentences and conditions of probation," Illuzzi said.

In Cashman's most-publicized case before this one, he threw Arthur and Geneva Yandow in jail after they refused to help prosecutors make a case against their son, a suspect in a rape. The parents said it would violate their Roman Catholic beliefs; Cashman, himself a Catholic, argued otherwise.

Cashman has volunteered for almost 20 years at a halfway house for prisoners. He said in an interview in 2000 with the Champlain Business Journal: "If you're going to put someone in jail, you ought to see them on their way out."

In that same interview the judge talked about his love of his job.

"Every day is a gift," he said. "I keep thinking they're going to come back and say `Oh my God, it was Cushman, not Cashman. Give us back the robe."'