Sobering: Booze-serving parents resentenced
That some parents allow underage drinking in Albemarle County isn't news. That parents who do so can be sentenced to eight years in jail sent shock waves throughout the community last February when George and Lisa Robinson were led shackled from the courtroom to jail.
They were back in court on appeal September 3, and Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross decided that the Robinsons' crime of buying booze for their 16-year-old's birthday party still warrants 27 months in jail– despite the prosecution's recommendation that the pair serve just 90 days.
Last February, never dreaming they'd get jail time because such a sentence was unprecedented, the Robinsons pleaded guilty in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to 16 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Judge Dwight Johnson wrote a new precedent, basing his eight-year sentence on 12 months in jail for each of the 16 charges, with six months suspended.
Last week, the Robinsons faced nine counts. "The seven who were dropped did not have alcohol in their system," says Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos. Peatross basically halved the earlier sentences, ordering six months in jail for each count, with three months suspended.
The proceedings took about an hour. Both sides agreed to a stipulation of the facts of the case, which Camblos read:
About 30 kids were at the party for which Lisa Robinson had bought $350 worth of beer and designer drinks at the Rio Hill Kroger.
Her ex-husband, Marc Kenty, had iced it down in four trashcans and delivered it to the Robinsons' Bleak House Road home.
They intended to take everyone's car keys and block the driveway so no one could leave– but had taken only five sets of keys.
The trashcans were in the backyard "and were not visible to parents."
A witness heard George Robinson tell a parent that no alcohol would be served.
And perhaps most damnably, Lisa Robinson suggested that teens gargle with vinegar to cover the smell of alcohol when the police arrived.
Peatross wasted no time in finding the Robinsons guilty of all nine charges. He heard from the Robinsons and their attorneys, then took a 10-minute recess before delivering the sentence.
Lisa Robinson looked somber in a navy pinstripe vest and pants as she apologized for allowing alcohol to be a part of her son's birthday party, and she apologized to the parents of the kids who attended.
Peatross, however, was having none of her explanations that this plan was intended to keep teens safe who otherwise would be out drinking without supervision.
"If your intentions were good, why supply 16-year-olds with alcohol?" he asked.
George Robinson also was remorseful: "It was a stupid mistake on my part, on everyone's part." He cited the humiliation of being in the Daily Progress and on TV. "The worst punishment I got was having to explain this to my children."
Again, Peatross didn't seem to think admitting a mistake in parental judgment was enough. "Tell me why you wished to furnish alcohol to 16-year-olds?" he asked.
"We wanted to keep the kids as safe as possible," answered Robinson.
And when Peatross asked whether he told a parent there was no alcohol at the party, Robinson responded, "I don't remember."
Fran Lawrence, Lisa Robinson's lawyer, says his client never lied about alcohol being served. "She told parents who called they were going to take the keys and that no one would be allowed to leave," he said.
But for prosecutor Camblos, misleading parents by not telling them alcohol was available and by keeping the beer discreetly behind a fence– and attempting to mislead the police with the suggestion to swill vinegar– was what made this case particularly "horrendous."
And although 90 days is way beyond what anyone else around here has gotten, "I think it's entirely appropriate," he told the judge.
"In 90 percent of these cases, mommy and daddy aren't home," says Camblos. "This is the first time we've had a case where mommy and daddy were home and supplied the alcohol and deceived parents."
Peatross admitted he struggled with the idea of parents giving 16-year-olds alcohol. "What kind of message do we want to send to other parents that this will not be tolerated?" he asked before slamming the couple with the more than two-year sentence.
The couple's attorneys immediately notified the court that they intend to appeal, and Peatross set a $10,000 bond– double their current $5,000 bond– with a condition that they neither use nor possess alcohol while on bond. He set a February 2, 2004, appeal date.
Afterward, Lawrence blasted the judge's sentence as "without precedent and fundamentally unfair." He added, "If you want to send a message, buy an ad in the newspaper."
"I still think [the sentence] is too harsh," said Sally Howe, who appeared in court as a character witness for Lisa Robinson. "I certainly feel for her. I think she's suffered enough."
"The question I have to ask is what happens to their kids when they're spending 27 months in jail," says one Albemarle parent, who declined to be identified. "Let's not let the punishment be as stupid as the crime."
And Lisa Robinson told the Daily Progress that when Peatross announced her sentence, her first thought was of her sons, ages 12 and 17. "How do you tell your kids that you won't be there for two years, that they won't have their mom?" she asked.
One thing Lawrence feels was overlooked in the harsh sentencing was the Robinsons' intentions to keep the determined-to-drink teens safe.
"Will this have any effect on teen drinking?" he asks. "Absolutely not."
He says the message being sent to teenagers is: "Get out of the house if you're going to drink." And to parents who know their kids are going to be out drinking: "Don't try to make it safer because you're going to be thrown in jail for years."