The Star-News


Having cake and eating it, too

Sat, Nov 30 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski

If I learned anything in 35 years of wearing a badge and making decisions that impact others' lives it is that I should get as much information as possible before making a decision, or, in my case, shooting off my mouth.

As a columnist, in the past few years I’ve had to backtrack and let the readers know I made decisions too hastily on some matters.

This time, it’s different. I’m trying to bring the complete story to other journalists, reporters, and letter writers who jumped the gun before knowing all the facts. The situation involves Judge Patricia Cookson from the El Cajon Court, along with convicted killer Danne Desbrow, and the family of Desbrow’s murder victim, Kevin Santos.

A jury found Desbrow guilty of murder. In September, Judge Cookson sentenced him to 53 years in prison, the most she could. The judge was roundly criticized for performing a marriage ceremony for Desbrow and the mother of his child in the courtroom at the conclusion of the sentencing.

People went nuts. Santos’s family obtained the services of a victim advocate attorney from Washington D.C. The family wants to file a judicial misconduct complaint against Judge Cookson and figured they had to get someone from out of state.

Judge Cookson was also criticized for letting the marriage participants eat a piece of cake she had baked. Take heart, folks; that is only part of the story. What the populace doesn’t know is that Desbrow is a bad news inmate. He fought with everyone and had to wear a “shock belt” because he would go after fellow inmates and jail deputies alike. He was nasty.

During the trial, Judge Cookson afforded him a modicum of respect. Believe it or not, it worked. Desbrow reacted to the civility by being a decent inmate and defendant. Because she was polite to him and let them remove the belt, he behaved himself. If you treat a person like an animal that person will likely act like an animal. Cookson’s efforts were repaid by decent behavior on Desbrow’s part.

Once a convict is in prison, marriage vows exchanged within the state slam are a tough thing to pull off. It can be done, but marriage behind bars isn’t easy. Some ask why marriage for a convict should be easy and I don’t have a ready answer. Because Desbrow hadn’t yet climbed on the prison bus, Judge Cookson opted to perform the ceremony in her courtroom with a minimum of difficulty, thus saving a lot of later difficulty.

Her Honor didn’t do the ceremony until after she had imposed a maximum sentence and cleared the courtroom. Sure, a bunch of deputies had to be there, but so what? Standing around is what courtroom deputies do best. If Desbrow would have acted up, he would have paid the price and he knew it.

As for the cake, this was yet another item blown out of proportion. Judge Cookson is an accomplished baker. She is constantly bringing in goodies for the court staff. She didn’t bake a cake specifically for the bride and groom. It was for everyone. The happy couple received a slice, and nothing more.

Had Desbrow been treated badly he undoubtedly would have continued to cause trouble for everyone, including the staff at whatever state penal institution he was sent.

I knew Judge Cookson when she was Patty Rogalski, a deputy district attorney of the finest kind. She was even-handed and fair. From my sources, she is the same as a judge.

Cut her some slack, for crying out loud. She probably saved the jail staff and the future prison staff a world of trouble just by being decent to this punk of a cold-blooded killer. It wasn’t as if she had given him a wink before sentencing.

She hammered him with the max, but then made life easier for everyone, not just him.

Basinski is a retired 35-year police officer.


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