I don’t envy Justice David MacAdam. Between now and July 27, he must parse the image of Richard Hurlburt as presented in court last week by his friends and colleagues—the “all around good guy” and pillar of his community who never met a community cause he did not support—with the convicted felon who calculatedly bilked taxpayers of more than $25,000.
He must balance the public’s righteous desire to make an example of the disgraced former MLA—the maximum penalty is 14 years in prison—with the reality of the more modest punishments normally handed out to lesser known mortals for similar sins.
And he must weigh how Hurlburt’s case compares to those of other public figures, such as former MLA Dave Wilson who is currently serving nine months in jail in connection with the same legislative expense scandal.
While many MLAs used the excuse of a flawed expenses system to make extravagant, entitled-to-my-entitlements expenditures—remember that $737 espresso machine and those pricey digital cameras—Hurlburt took excess to excess, filing fake claims to scam provincial taxpayers.
He submitted a “quote” for a $9,000 generator, for example, as a paid receipt, only finally buying a much cheaper, see-it-exists version after the auditor general began verifying MLA expenses.
He claimed he’d spent $3,500 for a big screen TV for his constituency office. He actually installed it in his house.
Twice, he submitted end-of-year, non-receipted receipts totaling nearly $13,000 for renovations to his office. There were no renovations.
What makes the already well-to-do Hurlburt’s crimes especially egregious is that—unlike Wilson, who was a gambling addict—there doesn’t appear to have been any explanation for Hurlburt’s actions other than greed.
So what should his punishment be?
I believe there should be actual jail time, but it will likely be modest, six months at most. Since Hurlburt has already paid back the money he stole, the most useful penalty would be to sentence Hurlburt to speak to every high school in the province explaining to them—and to us—how and why an “all around good guy” ended up doing something so wrong.