October 24, 2014
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Judge replaces jail sentence with letter to editor

:In late September, the Beacon received a letter to the editor that stood out from the rest. This one didn’t outline a council hopeful’s ideas for city improvement, or the frustration of a taxpayer with the current system. It didn’t even attack the newspaper for a controversial headline or subject matter. This letter to the editor was delivered via certified mail, and was a court-mandated, public account of one man’s run-in with the law.

The letter arrived with this cover letter:

“Dear Mr. Howell,

At a Court proceeding on May 17, 2012, as a condition of my sentence, Superior Court Justice Edward C. Clifton directed me to write a letter to the editor describing my experience as a defendant in the criminal justice system. In particular, Justice Clifton wanted me to warn individuals about the great personal cost of criminal conduct. I have attempted to do so in the enclosed letter.

I offer it to you in the hope that you will see fit to print it.”

The note was signed by John Lomba of Warwick.

“It’s rather unusual,” said Superior Court spokesman Craig Berke.

Though Berke explained there’s not a system to track how often a unique sentence like this is ordered, he did say that Judge Clifton, who directed Lomba to write the letter, has only administered such a sentence two or three times in his nearly 20 years on the bench. So why did Clifton order Lomba to write a letter as punishment?

Lomba did not return calls for comment, but according to his letter, Lomba is a “gay man with a number of physical and medical challenges,” a combination of factors that left him “worried sick” about going to jail. But getting sentenced to writing a letter instead of serving time wasn’t as simple as expressing his own, personal concerns.

In Lomba’s letter, he details the crime that he committed four years ago at the age of 45. On July 11, 2008, Lomba assaulted two individuals after getting into a brawl. After a four-day trial in Kent County Superior Court, he was found guilty of misdemeanor assault on Nov. 19, 2009.

“Although I am a college graduate with many personal and professional achievements of which I am proud,” wrote Lomba, “I sullied my good name and reputation and am now a convicted criminal because of one very poor decision.”

At the time of his conviction, Lomba was sentenced to nine months probation, nine months suspension and a one-year jail sentence with 90 days to serve. Lomba sought an appeal of the case, which was rejected. He then sought a modification of his sentence, and in May it was determined that, due to his medical and mental health, incarceration may not be the best punishment said Berke.

Berke said Judge Clifton had to be creative at this point, and craft an appropriate punishment for Lomba. For undisclosed reasons, home confinement was not a viable option.

“Each case has its own, unique circumstances,” said Berke.

So Clifton decided on this public letter sentence, and gave Lomba the option to either write to the Providence Journal or to the Warwick Beacon. He also changed Lomba’s probation and suspension sentences to one year apiece.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the three years and seven months in which my case was pending were the most stressful of my entire life,” wrote Lomba.

Lomba said in his letter that he was the victim of a hate crime in 1998, an event that not only left him fearful of what would befall him in jail, but made him even more “remorseful” and “embarrassed” of his own crime.

“Crime has such far-reaching, injurious effects – on the victims and their families, on the defendant and their families, and on society at large,” he wrote. “The familiar adage that ‘Crime doesn’t pay’ took on a new, and very personal, meaning in my life.”

The Beacon received a phone call from Lomba’s probation officer to see if the letter would indeed be printed; Clifton had to approve the letter in order for it to replace Lomba’s original sentence.

John Lomba’s letter to the editor is printed in full in today’s Editorial section.


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