Diggles case serves as larger civics lesson

August 17, 2018

The prosecution of Walter Diggles and two family members is primarily a legal matter, but it has become a larger civics lesson with the release of letters supporting him. Southeast Texans are getting a valuable snapshot of justice and democracy in action.

The release of character letters this week by the presiding judge gave taxpayers insight into public officials who also are entrusted with great responsibility. For this very reason, these kinds of letters should be released promptly in other cases except those involving issues like minors or sexual assault victims.

Some of the letters came from longtime friends of the Diggles family, which was not surprising. A few came from officials like Newton (and former Jasper) County Sheriff Billy Rowles and Houston County Judge R.C. von Doenhoff. They might not be expected to speak up for someone convicted of serious crimes.

Many of the letter-writers praised the community service of the Diggles family, which was commendable. Some even admitted they knew little or nothing about the case, which presumably limited the weight of their letters.

The sentences handed down by U.S. District Judge Ron Clark appeared appropriate, though he agreed the case was “exceptional” and the principals merited some lenience. Diggles got nine years in federal prison, where there is no parole, and his wife and daughter each received four years and six months.

That was justified, because the Diggleses were not on trial for their likability. Walter Diggles was accused and convicted on 16 counts of theft, money laundering and wire fraud involving large amounts of tax dollars. People who violate the law like that must pay a price, whether they were saints or sinners beforehand.

Any Southeast Texans who are sympathetic to the family should remember that this is primarily about hurricane-recovery funds. This region is no stranger to natural disasters, and when they happen, we want state and federal relief as soon as possible. Cases like this make that harder, with greater documentation required when money is distributed. That red tape invariably slows the process, pleasing no one struggling with a gutted house or torn roof.

When tragedy strikes, organizations like the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, where Diggles had been the executive director, should be doing all they can to make things better — not diverting money to people who don’t deserve it.

Looking back on all of this, area residents see a prominent family that was held to the same standards as other defendants. They received a fair trial, with ample opportunity to defend themselves. Even with some consideration, they got prison terms that could not be considered slaps on the wrist.

This is the way the system is supposed to work, even for messy or complex cases. It doesn’t always happen like that.

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