- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2000

Child advocates and law enforcement officials can't decide what is worse: a Montgomery County, Md., judge's lenient sentence Tuesday of a convicted sex offender or his comments that the 11-year-old girl involved was partly to blame for the crime.

"It's pathetic. She's a child," said a veteran sex-crimes detective who asked not to be identified. "It's common sense. A child can't consent. The reason they have those laws on the books is because they are not old enough or mature enough to make those decisions."

The case of Vladimir Chacon-Bonilla, 24, who pleaded guilty to a second-degree sex offense, might have gone unnoticed or been a passing blip in news reports had Circuit Judge Durke G. Thompson not spoken so bluntly in court.

But he did, and his controversial comment "it takes two to tango" hit a nerve among area child advocates who are discussing the case with colleagues during coffee breaks and from across their desks.

Many have one question in mind: Who is this judge?

Judge Thompson, 57, appointed by former Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer to the circuit court in 1994, was born Aug. 5, 1942, in the District of Columbia. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1964 from the University of Maryland and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1967.

Judge Thompson was a law clerk in Maryland's Court of Special Appeals, served in the Maryland National Guard until 1972, and in the U.S. Army Reserves until 1973.

He is married to NBC News correspondent Lea Thompson.

The Thompsons have an adult daughter, Laetitia Thompson, 22, who is also known for speaking her mind. In April 1994, she was a 17-year-old high school student from Potomac when she asked one of the most memorable questions of the 1990s.

"Mr. President," she asked Bill Clinton during an appearance on MTV, "The world's dying to know: Is it boxers or briefs?"

Judge Thompson's "tango" remark is generating almost as much reaction as his daughter's provocative query much of it negative.

"This guy shouldn't be judging pies at the state fair," said Jan LaRue, senior director of legal studies at the Family Research Council.

"I'm infuriated at both the sentence and his comments. The state law says that children cannot consent to engage in sex. We protect children from abusive adults," Mrs. LaRue said.

Judge Thompson, who said judicial ethics prohibit him from publicly discussing the case and responding to the criticism, sentenced Chacon-Bonilla to 18 months in prison and three years of probation for having sex with the girl. Chacon-Bonilla could have faced up to 20 years in prison.

At sentencing, the judge told the victim's family their daughter bore some responsibility for what had happened.

"I think the old adage that it takes two to tango is true here," Judge Thompson said, pointing out that the preteen girl invited Chacon-Bonilla, of Alexandria, Va., to her home after meeting him on the Internet.

The girl's mother found the former U.S. Marine, his pants around his ankles, hiding in the child's closet at 3 a.m. on July 23.

Several police officers and prosecutors Thursday were willing to share their reactions to the judge's comments, though not for attribution; law enforcement officials seldom publicly criticize a specific judge.

Said a former sex-offense prosecutor who asked not to be identified, "It's totally outrageous. Their development intellectual, cognitive and emotional is not advanced enough for them to understand the nature of the conduct."

Chacon-Bonilla testified the girl claimed to be 18 when he became acquainted with her on the Internet last spring. He said he did not know her true age until her mother screamed, "She's only 11!" upon discovering him in the girl's bedroom.

"I have a solution: Ask her mother," said the prosecutor. "Did he go through the front door. Did he ring the doorbell? I doubt it. If you don't [find out the age], I think you're saying 'I really don't want to know.' "

"We've had people in court say 'She came on to me,' when the child was 5, 6, or 7 years old," the prosecutor said. "It's ridiculous."

Montgomery County State's Attorney Doug F. Gansler has publicly criticized the judge.

"I don't think this case would have caught anyone's attention if it was just about the sentence. The problem I have with this case is the reasoning he offered for giving such a low sentence, casting blame on an 11-year-old," Mr. Gansler said.

"He'll be out of jail in six months at the longest," he said of the Salvadoran citizen who has spent most of his life in the United States.

Mr. Gansler said prosecutors agreed to a plea bargain so the girl would not have to testify.

But like some other lawyers, he also commended the judge for his overall work.

"We have no personal animosity to the judge. I like the judge. I think he's a good judge. It's a great bench out here, and they work hard. Are their sentences often too low? Yes," Mr. Gansler said.

Attorney Mitchell Rubenstein said Judge Thompson is fair in his rulings.

"Judge Thompson is a gentleman among gentlemen. He's a fine jurist." he said.

But another lawyer, who asked not to be identified, said there is no justification for the judge's sentence or comments.

"I'm very uncomfortable with him. He talks too much. It was just a matter of time before he put his foot in his mouth," the lawyer said.

Referring to an article Thursday in The Washington Times that detailed a history of controversial rulings issued by Judge Thompson, Mrs. LaRue said: "To see this judge has a track record for lenient sentencing… . He just doesn't get it."

The Family Research Council is awarding the judge its Court Jester Award in its weekly newsletter, Legal Facts, that will be distributed Friday. The award is issued weekly to a judge "for an outrageous opinion or ruling."

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