Former presidential aide Claude Allen, 45, pleaded guilty to one count of shoplifting in Montgomery County, Md., on Aug. 5. He was domestic policy advisor to Bush as the time of the incidents and he subsequently resigned that position in February, prior to his arrest on the charges becoming public knowledge.
Allen was one of the most prominent African-American social conservatives within the Republican Party and the Bush administration. He served as press secretary to Sen. Jesse Helms in the 1980s and as the number two person at the Department of Health and Human Services ( HHS ) during Bush's first four years in office.
In that position, essentially the chief operating officer of the huge agency, he was a strong supporter of abstinence-only HIV prevention programs and restrictions on abortions. He championed 'audits' of AIDS services organizations and activities that many within the community characterized as harassing in nature.
Allen lived in the affluent Washington suburb of Montgomery County. According to the statement released by county police when he first appeared in court in March, security cameras at a Target store caught Allen in the scam.
'He would buy items, take them out to his car, and return to the store with the receipt. He would select the same items he had just purchased, and then return them for a refund. Allen is known to have conducted approximately 25 of these types of refunds, having the money credited to his credit cards.'
Investigation by Target and the police 'learned that Allen had been receiving refunds in an amount exceeding $5,000 during last year. Some of the fraudulent returns were made at Target stores and some at Hecht's stores,' a leading local department store.
The plea agreement reduced the multiple violations to a single misdemeanor offense. Allen must pay a $500 fine, perform 40 hours of community service, make restitution of $850 to Target and serve two years of supervised probation. However, the agreement allows him to retain his license to practice law, something that a felony conviction might have prevented.
'Stealing is not something that I ever thought that I would ever do, and I did,' Allen told the judge. 'I accept full responsibility for my actions and what I did. I am intensely, immensely sorry for that and very remorseful for the harm that I've caused so many.'
His wife Jannese, reading from a written statement, recounted the pressures that her husband was under at the time, including transition to a new house with four small children. 'Claude's 14-hour workdays became more demanding after the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.'
The judge bought it, saying that he thought Allen was 'legitimately remorseful.'
Others were not so generous. Washington Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher called it 'a sweetheart deal ... . Would someone who hadn't been deputy secretary of [ HHS ] have gotten such a sweet deal? Even if they would have, shouldn't a top official of government be held to a higher standard?'
'A lot of people face stress, and they don't do anything like that,' Ronald Walters told the Washington Post. He is Allen's ideological opposite and heads up the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland. 'There's still the why out there. The psychological factor is the factor I'm missing in all of this. That's the tantalizing factor.'
Vermont Supreme Court Upholds Lesbian Visitation Rights
By Bob Roehr
The Vermont Supreme Court strongly asserted its jurisdiction in a case involving visitation rights to the child of two lesbians who had joined in, and then dissolved, their civil union. The issue also has been the basis of litigation in the state of Virginia, and a squabble over which state has jurisdiction.
Lisa and Janet Miller-Jenkins lived together for several years in Virginia before traveling to Vermont and entering into a civil union in December 2000. They pursued artificial insemination and Lisa gave birth to Isabella back in Virginia in April 2002. They moved to Vermont later that summer but after about a year the relationship broke up and Lisa moved back to Virginia with the child.
The pair began legal proceedings to dissolve the relationship and a judge awarded interim visitation rights to Janet. But Lisa later filed suit in Virginia, asking that Janet be declared to have no parental rights under Virginia law. She also 'found' Jesus and no longer considers herself to be a lesbian.
Justice John Dooley, writing for the unanimous five-member Vermont Supreme Court, focused on the question of jurisdiction. He said that because the legal proceedings were initiated in Vermont, under the federal Parental Kidnapping Protection Act ( PKPA ) , it was the court of jurisdiction.
He dismissed the attempt by Lisa's attorney with the conservative Liberty Counsel to invoke the Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) , the antigay federal law that restricts marriage to between a man and a woman. Dooley wrote, 'This case is about whether the Vermont court must give full faith and credit to the Virginia court, and not the reverse'.
'Unlike the PKPA, in no instance does DOMA require a court in one state to give full faith and credit to the decision of a court in another state. Its sole purpose is to provide an authorization not to give full faith and credit in the circumstances covered by the statute.'
Liberty Counsel founder Matthew D. Staver told the New York Times, the Vermont decision 'tramples on parental rights and state sovereignty. Vermont 'does not have the right to impose its same-sex union policy on Virginia.'
Jay Squires, co-counsel for Janet, had a different interpretation. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, 'I hope this decision sets a clear precedent that an activist can't overturn settled federal and state law governing custody disputes.'
It is not clear that the Virginia legal system will recognize the Vermont ruling. The local court verdict has been appealed, and the Virginia Court of Appeals has deferred ruling until after the Vermont decision. Some observers believe the matter will end up before the US Supreme Court.
Meanwhile the Indiana Supreme Court voted 4-1 not to accept an appeal from a lower court that allowed for adoption by joint petition. That effectively allows same-sex couples to adopt with equal custody.
'The facts speak for themselves, two people can create a caring, stable, loving home for children without being married,' said Patricia Logue, an attorney with Lambda Legal.
The ruling comes just a month after the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously declared a ban on gays and lesbians serving as foster parents to be unconstitutional.