Welcome Home Stew Leonard Sr.
Stew Leonard's Caters to Kids
Stew Leonard's in Norwalk CT
Stew Leonard Sr. in Happier Days
Stew Leonard's 'Dairy' Store
Welcome home Stew Leonard Sr.!
The (Norwalk, Connecticut) entrepreneur whose business prowess was world acclaimed after his unmatched success at the Westport Avenue store bearing his name is out of prison after serving 44 months on a tax-fraud conviction in connection with his dairy store.
Mr. Leonard made a mistake, a big mistake. But he was charged, indicted, convicted and served the time our judicial system determined to be appropriate for the offense.
As a community, we can rightfully be indignant that one of our leaders betrayed us, as can his friends and his family and, no doubt, himself.
Time to Heal the Wounds
But, now, Mr. Leonard has "paid his debt to society," as the cliché goes; it's time to heal the wounds.
Mr. Leonard's son, Tom, who faces charges of his own related to a grand jury indictment in connection with alleged under reporting of personal income and alleged preparation of false tax returns, is an entirely separate issue. Tom Leonard has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and our justice system will have the last word on that.
As a civilization, which has been imprisoning people for centuries, we need to re-think our entire justice system.
It served little purpose for the United States to put Stew Leonard behind bars. Aside from vengefulness, all we did was keep a man away from his family for nearly four years.
Stew Leonard Posed No Threat
Mr. Leonard was not likely to do any further harm to society. He certainly posed no threat of violence. A more appropriate government action in such cases may be to require those convicted of crimes to apply their particular skills toward some project beneficial to society.
Prisons make more sense when dealing with sociopaths, who have nothing to contribute to society, as well as those who are likely to be violent -- or otherwise break the law again.
Justice System Flawed
Our justice system is plagued with deficiencies; these begin the moment a crime is committed, and do not end until the person who committed the crime is dead, either naturally or through capital punishment.
Few criminals are tried for the crime they actually commit; charges that would specifically match the crime are often plea-bargained (when lesser charges are filed to make it easier for the prosecution to get a conviction.)
Jury Selection Process
Then, during jury selection, prosecutors and defense attorneys try to find jurors sympathetic to their sides. After a jury is selected, the judge tells the jury what evidence it can consider and how it can be applied. Jurors do not determine questions of law; that's reserved for the judge.
If there is a conviction, family members of the accused are paraded before a jury to suggest how severely the defendant should be treated. The impact of this will, of course, be uneven.
We need to find a better way!
Door Open for Change
The way trials are conducted has evolved over the years, encompassing myriad judicial decisions endorsed by one court or another -- including the Supreme Court. But many changes could be made while retaining the constitutionality of the procedure.
We should take a close look at these judicial decisions and, until improvements are put into effect, let's give convicts who have served their time an even break.
Good luck, Stew! I, for one, wish you well.
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on July 12, 1997.
'Stew Leonard: My Story' by Stew Leonard with Scotty Reiss
ADDENDUM: I finally got around to reading Stew Leonard's book, published by Colle & Co. in 2009, thanks to my local library in Valley Stream, N.Y., and the library of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I heartily recommend the book. I decided to find and read it after visiting the newest Stew Leonard's store in Farmingdale, L.I., N.Y., with some friends. I was privileged to have dined with Stew Sr. and several Norwalk, Connecticut, officials (including my late friend and former Norwalk mayor and 4th District congressman Donald J. Irwin) at Little Anthony's, a onetime local restaurant up the road from Stew's original ("dairy," as Stew insisted, not "supermarket.") The Norwalk store had only been in business a year at that time and as we drove to Little Anthony's Stew told us, "I can't believe how much money I'm making."