The morning ended in hugs and tears of relief for Elaine Thompson and her supporters, after a judge ruled she would not be required to serve any jail time.
Thompson, 64, was the therapist who counseled the Gravelles, the Clarksfield Township couple recently convicted of child abuse for forcing some of their children to sleep in cage-like structures and other "harsh punishments."
On Feb. 14, 2006, a Huron County grand jury indicted Thompson on 16 counts of aiding and abetting child abuse, all third-degree felonies, and 16 misdemeanor counts of complicity to child abuse and failure to report child abuse. A year later, Thompson agreed to a plea bargain, pleading guilty to three second-degree misdemeanor counts of failure to report a crime. The state dismissed all other charges.
Huron County Common Pleas Court Judge Earl McGimpsey sentenced Thompson to 90 days suspended jail time and five years probation. Unless she violates her probation, she will not end up behind bars though she will not be permitted to practice as a licensed social worker during her probation. McGimpsey also sentenced her to 500 hours of community service and $2,250 in fines.
McGimpsey said a number of factors played into his decision, including the 85 letters the court received from colleagues, patients, parents, friends and family. He said it was clear Thompson was a compassionate person who took her work seriously.
"Her long, exemplary career should not be ignored," he said during this morning's hearing.
Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler had requested 200 days in jail and restitution for the $100,000 she collected from the county when serving the Gravelles.
"If Elaine Thompson is an example of exemplary psychological counseling, things are pretty bad out there," Leffler said after the hearing.
The prosecutor said he thought the county had treated Thompson fairly, but she lost her way in the case and deserved to be punished.
"She did not have the best interest of these children at heart," he said during the hearing. "She could have stopped this with a phone call. She chose not to do that."
Thompson's attorney, Jay Milano, said he thought the sentence was fair. He told the court that Thompson was different from every other person in the case because, by pleading guilty, she was actually accepting responsibility for her role in the situation.
Milano said the worst thing Thompson did was lose her objectivity and therefore try to help the family cope, instead of putting an end to the situation. He added that if Leffler truly felt Thompson was to blame, he would not have agreed to reduce the charges in the first place.
The attorney also pointed out that most misdemeanors carry little or no jail time, and by asking for such an aggressive sentence Leffler was "genuflecting to the public hysteria" and "catering to the aura around these cases."
Thompson also spoke briefly at the hearing.
"This entire situation has been tragic," she said. "I'm sorry for the role that I played."
The courtroom was filled with Thompson supporters, who greeted her with a standing ovation and hugs after the sentencing.
One supporter, who wished to remain anonymous, said the situation has been hard for Thompson, who, as McGimpsey said, has an otherwise pristine record.
"People look away from her at the grocery store," the supporter said. "She took the hit for everybody. Other people knew about this case workers, agencies ... she was a scapegoat for everybody."
McGimpsey might agree with her.
"The court is not unmindful of the fact that there's lots of controversy about professionals who have not done their jobs," the judge said. "She is the one charged." He added there were other professionals who could have put a stop to the situation including state witnesses but they were not charged.
When asked if he thought the judge was sending a message to the social workers and state witnesses that they were equally culpable, Leffler said it made "no sense" and the light sentence would "hardly scare them."
Leffler also said he "never shied away" from the fact that the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services could have done things differently and saved the children "considerable suffering. But the same applies to Elaine Thompson."