For a man who had given so much to the Republican Party and to Gov.
Huckabee himself it was
not much, but it was all that was in the governor's power to give. So Huckabee offered clemency to
David Hale, the former judge whose fantastic scams and lies brought havoc to the nation and the state.
Huckabee wouldn't give his reasons for commuting Hale's sentence when
he put the announcement
out after office hours Monday but by Tuesday his lips were unsealed. He said Arkansas would be
responsible for Hale's medical expenses for the 21 days that Hale would be in jail and he did it to
save the taxpayers the money. Hale takes medicine for heart trouble.
Whatever the appearances, Gov. Huckabee implies, it was not a reward
to the little judge for his encyclopedic
services to the Republican Party, including the governor, who would not be in office were it not for Hale.
Everyone is free to believe that politics had nothing, absolutely nothing,
to do with commuting Hale's sentence.
We know that Huckabee is capable of acts of compassion for great sinners. Were it not so, he would not have
announced a few days earlier that he would commute the sentence of an obscure lifer who had served 26 years
for killing a couple of people in a string of robberies when he was a teenager. Commuting the sentence of
Willie Way Jr. may give Huckabee some cover for keeping Hale, who had powerful pleaders, out of jail.
But people may be forgiven if they wonder exactly how the governor decides
whom he chooses for grace
from the thousands who have been sentenced or are serving time and, like Hale, claim to be in flagging
health and have families who love them. Just what was it that brought David Hale into disfavor with the
law and ultimately into favor with the governor? Maybe it will help to review.
His 21-day state sentence was for a scam he worked a decade ago on poor
people who bought burial
insurance policies from one of Hale's companies. Hale had deprived the company of the capital that the
law required so that it could pay off burial claims.When state regulators came to look at the books he
laundered $150,000 of a Texas businessman's money through a sham company he called Emanon
("no name" spelled backwards) to deceive regulators into believing his insurance company had the
required capital. At his trial in 1999, he tried to persuade the jury that the employee who had notified
regulators of the deficiency was responsible for the fraud.
That failing, he begged for compassion. The prosecutor exercised it.
He didn't ask for the maximum penalty,
eight years in prison, because Hale had served 24 months for federal crimes under a plea bargain with
Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, but the prosecutor asked the jury to give Hale a few days of jail time
to show that the state does not condone white-collar fraud upon people.
Hale, a Little Rock municipal judge, had plea-bargained for a light
sentence after the new Clinton administration
in 1993 turned him in for stealing hundreds of thousands of tax dollars through a small-business capital company
he had been running with grand impunity through the Reagan and Bush administrations. When the new U.S.
attorney brought the evidence to a federal grand jury, Hale announced that President Clinton himself, when
he was governor, had pressured him into misusing federal tax dollars and that if he got leniency he would
implicate Clinton and his Democratic cronies. His tale created demands for a special prosecutor and Clinton
obliged, which started the six-year Whitewater investigation. At trial, Hale wouldn't repeat the charge that
Clinton pressured him, which by then was manifestly false, but he was nevertheless of service.
Hale led the special prosecutor to Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, who while a
private businessman in the '80s had
helped Hale cook his books to get more money from Uncle Sam and had benefited himself in the process.
Hale's testimony helped convict Tucker, whose resignation in 1996 catapulted Huckabee into the governor's office.
Though Hale pretended to have been a friend of Democrats in his days
as a crook his small-business investment
company actually had been a cookie jar for Republican bigwigs. An audit showed that he had laundered thousands
of tax dollars from the federal Small Business Administration into the Republican campaign against Bill Clinton in
1986. Kenneth Starr never charged Hale with that nor would he permit the information to get into the public trials
and into the national press.
Neither was he charged or exposed for providing $295,000 of federally
guaranteed loans to the Republican
national committeeman - once, he admitted, to reward the man for writing legal opinions that helped him defraud
the taxpayers. Other prominent Republicans were favored, according to federal audits, but Hale and Kenneth Starr
kept mum about them.
Twenty-one days of freedom is a small reward for so much loyalty.