Justice is an elusive thing, seeming to be more of a concept sometimes than a reality.

Ask the family of Patrick Kibler if they feel that justice was served Tuesday in the sentencing of Cory Sause, the young woman who killed Patrick in a Dec. 21, 2004, car crash, and you will undoubtedly get one answer.

Ask the same question of the Sause family, and a different answer probably will emerge.

The reality is that two Lake Oswego families became inescapably intertwined that fateful night and all the survivors must continue to juggle around the obvious bottom line; Young Patrick Kibler is gone forever but not forgotten.

It's very unfortunate that it's taken 20-plus months for this case to go to trial in Clackamas County Circuit Court. The entire concept of speedy trial was thrown out long ago. Credit the hiring of Stephen Houze as the lead defense attorney with part of this. Also credit the concerns of the Clackamas County District's Attorney's office in wishing to proceed cautiously.

It's sad that it took the court date Tuesday before members of the Kibler family were in the same room as Sause.

Patrick Kibler's father, John, addressed Sause Tuesday, saying: 'I don't think any of us harbor animosity toward you. The feelings we have are of extreme sadness … The one good thing to come out of this is if it helps your life in the future.'

Strong words.

Emotional words.

We can only hope Sause and her family were listening.

We have never been big fans of the entire legal process known as plea-bargaining. We recognize that it has its place, that it can serve to speed up a stalling-out court system. Unfortunately, it means that much of what takes place goes on behind closed doors in a courthouse, out of public sight, out of public scrutiny.

Houze and deputy district attorneys have been huddling for a considerable amount of time on this case. Resulting from that lengthy plea-bargaining discussion was that two of the five counts against Sause (both possession of a controlled substance) were dismissed. Sause admitted guilt on the other three (criminal negligent homicide, assault and driving under the influence of intoxicants).

For her role in this tragic scenario, Sause received 60 months with the Oregon Department of Corrections with potential for an 'alternative program,' such as an alcohol-treatment program, after 33 months served.

Is this justice?

You be the judge.

Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Robert Selander approved the plea bargain when he sentenced Sause Tuesday.

He called the sentence 'necessary and appropriate.'

'Cory Sause is a person of true substance,' Houze said in the courtroom. 'She is actually a remarkable young woman … We will look back on this as an opportunity to live our lives the best we can and help our fellow man. That's the mission she set herself. She will make us proud.'

We can only hope.

Still, we wonder about the justice here. The Kibler family went to the courthouse Tuesday, knowing the basics about what the sentencing would be for Sause. What they wanted was some contact from her, a word, an apology, an acknowledgment that she took something away from them.

They didn't get any input from Sause, who did not speak during or after the proceedings.

Did anyone get justice?



Maybe not.

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