07/21/04 — Facing prison: Different reactions from Martha and Meg

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Facing prison: Different reactions from Martha and Meg

Martha Stewart is one greatly to be admired for her accomplishments.

She came up in a family deeply imbued with the work ethic. Combining that with her brilliance and entrepreneurship, she amassed a huge fortune and a loyal following.

But she slipped up badly when she unloaded thousands of dollars in stocks based on an inside tip. She slipped even worse when she lied about it.

A jury convicted her and U.S. District Court Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum sentenced her to five months in prison and five months in home confinement — plus a fine, which would be of no consequence to one of Ms. Stewart’s wealth.

When Mrs. Stewart left the courthouse, she responded bitterly to awaiting representatives of the media. With scathing comments, she said she had been the targeted victim of vindictive and vicious unfairness. The good woman appeared to be uncharacteristically out of control.

That might be understandable. She was, after all, going to stripped of her freedom for a few months. But she had known it was inevitable and had had plenty of time to prepare herself to accept it with some degree of dignity.

She had been tried by her peers, some of whom were women who probably were great admirers of Ms. Stewart. And the sentence could have been much harsher.

The judge gave her the very minimum possible under the structured sentencing guidelines.

Martha Stewart might have taken a lesson from our former North Carolina commissioner of agriculture, Meg Scott Phipps.

Mrs. Phipps represented the third generation of a political dynasty that included a grandfather who served as commissioner of agriculture, governor and senator; and a father who served as lieutenant governor, governor and president of the state’s community college system.

Like Martha Stewart, Mrs. Phipps also slipped up — and lied to cover it up.

And, like Ms. Stewart, Meg Phipps was sentenced to federal prison. Unlike Ms. Stewart, she didn’t get the minimum sentence. She received the maximum, four years.

But also unlike Martha Stewart, Meg Scott Phipps shuffled out of the courtroom in irons but with her head high, her mouth closed and her dignity intact.

Published in Editorials on July 21, 2004 11:51 AM