If any other man had gotten this kind of support — a letter from the district attorney urging a lenient sentence, a recommendation by the prosecutor for the same, and many other demonstrations of support — he might have skipped serving time in jail. But Craig Sorensen was a public official, given special duties by the voters of Salt Lake County, and that made all the difference.
When 3rd District Judge Deno Himonas sentenced Sorensen this week to 10 days in jail, 12 months of probation, 200 hours of community service and $5,250 in fines, he was doing more than applying penalties to an individual who had broken the law. He was passing sentence on the very idea that someone would abuse a public trust.
That's an important principle. If the opposite were true — if elected leaders were given light sentences for crimes because they were likable or because people felt they had done a measure of good for the community, as well — it would erode the foundations of the republic. Voters, already suspicious, would grow cynical of government's perceived desire to protect its own, as well as of the judiciary's independence. Taxpayers, already concerned about the amount they have to pay, would be in a mood to revolt.
Sorensen is indeed likable. He wouldn't have been elected to five consecutive four-year terms as county auditor if he had been otherwise. Those who worked with him describe him as professional and hard-working. He instituted a budgeting plan that called for all county departments to plan five years in advance. That made it easier to track the long-term consequences of any decisions contemplated today, and it no doubt held the line on taxes and expenditures over time.
But Sorensen charged thousands of dollars worth of gasoline for his private vehicles with a credit card that was paid by the county. That didn't negate any of the good, but it was a crime that violated the trust of his office.
We have no doubt that Sorensen's tearful apology in court on Monday was sincere. We also are confident he can put this episode behind him and resume a good and productive life. His friends should not abandon him.
But the sentence he received was correct in light of the job he held. Public officials who break the law must be treated differently than others who do so.