When public officials—particularly those in law enforcement—are busted for crimes, it leaves a bitter taste in our mouths because they’re the ones writing tickets, issuing judgments and collecting fines from our less-than-law-abiding selves. It reminds us, yet again, that people with authority aren’t any less fallible than the rest of us. And though we empathize on the human level, we also feel resentful. They’re always pointing out what we’ve done wrong, and there they are, not following their own rules.

That’s how we feel about the news that Ravalli District Court Judge Jeffrey Langton entered an in-patient alcohol treatment program early this week following a June 11 incident in which Missoula police were called on Langton, passed-out drunk near his Holiday Inn room. No charges have been filed, but the story is in the news because Langton pleaded guilty to drunken driving in March after being stopped for swerving in downtown Hamilton. He paid his $410 in fines and was ordered to enroll in an assessment and treatment course and to stay out of bars and away from alcohol for 12 months. At his sentencing he told the judge, “I just want to say I’ve made a stupid mistake and I’m here to take responsibility for it…You won’t see me again judge.”

Despite the apology, and even at the time, the situation didn’t sit well, since Hamilton Police Officer Stephen Murphey had written in his report that night that Langton said to him in a low voice: “I hope you know what you are doing.” Thus did the issue of official bullying, a problem far greater than simple fallibility, enter the picture.

And now, in the wake of Langton’s second run-in with alcohol and the law, acting Hamilton City Attorney Jennifer Lint has asked former Missoula County Attorney Robert “Dusty” Deschamps to pick up the investigation, which presumably revolves around probation violation. For now, nothing’s been decided and even less is being said. Langton, who’s been a Ravalli District Court judge since 1992, has entered a treatment center and fellow District Court Judge James Haynes says he’ll cover Langton’s duties until he’s back in the saddle July 18.

It’s good to hear that Langton is getting treatment. At the same time we can’t help our skepticism. First, because the judge is now what he himself might view as a repeat offender, and secondly because that “hope you know what you’re doing” bit about doesn’t incline us toward trustfulness. Our natural optimism is further eroded by the fact that this year has seen other law enforcement officials in the same trouble—Flathead County Deputy Attorney Lori Adams and Columbia Falls City Attorney Eric Kaplan were both charged with DUIs earlier this year.

How about a toast to hoping our officials get their acts together before they make the wrong turn from human error to bad example.

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