Phoenix Superior Court Judge Stephen Gerst denies that Bishop Thomas O’Brien got preferential treatment in a sentence of community service for leaving the scene of a fatal auto accident. At O’Brien’s sentencing, Gerst spent about an hour describing his review of 99 other cases in which a defendant had left the scene of an accident. In the end he decided to give the bishop a deferred jail sentence, four years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
In 20 years on the bench, Gerst has sent an awful lot of bad guys to prison and sentenced several to death, notes Arizona Republic columnist E. J. Montini. When asked about Maricopa County prosecutor Rick Romley’s charge that O’Brien got off easy, the judge he told Montini, “I don’t believe the bishop is getting preferential treatment. He’s getting a lot more (community service) hours than most get. And I don’t believe it’s particularly easy to sit next to people who are dying or very ill.”
Gerst is eligible for retirement, but Montini says he keeps working because he still believes that making a difference is possible. He’s planning to stick around for a few years to work with young people, the one area of the justice system where he has yet to serve. Asked his biggest lesson from the O’Brien case, the judge says, “I learned that I can’t wait to get to Juvenile Court.”