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updated 3/8/2004 1:53:42 PM ET 2004-03-08T18:53:42

Last Friday on “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” Chris asked me, "Was justice done in the Martha Stewart case?" 

It‘s a complicated question for me, so I kind of waffled.  On the one hand, I said she was likely guilty of the charges she faced.  And yet I wondered whether the charges should have been filed at all.

It‘s a troubling case:  Based on the testimony, it‘s clear Stewart and her broker lied about why she sold her Imclone stock.  They conspired to concoct a story.  And she did it in effort to throw investigators off.  So Justice was served and justice was done. 

But there‘s something about not charging Martha Stewart with the crime of “insider trading,” but charging Stewart for lying during investigation, which never went anywhere criminally.

There‘s no doubt in my mind that a Martha Jones in similar circumstances would have had a much better chance of walking out with no charges filed.  But again, that doesn‘t mean justice wasn‘t served.  It just means the authorities don‘t have the resources to prosecute everyone they think committed a crime.

One has to wonder whether any more punishment fits crime.  For those of you who say “If it were me, I would have gotten the full 20 years,”  I say “If it were  you, you probably wouldn‘t have been charged at all.”

Justice also requires that Stewart get a lenient sentence.  She was prosecuted to send a message about lying to federal investigators.  That message has been heard loud and clear.  She will almost certainly have to serve some time.  And I assure you, she has already paid a hefty price.  She won‘t be able to run the company she created.  She‘s lost her television program.  And last Friday alone, she lost almost $100 million.

To give her a stiff sentence would be to equate her actions with those of real corporate criminals, people who use their positions at major companies to deceive their investors.  Stewart‘s criminal activity here was in her role as a private citizen, not as a CEO of a major company.  The only charge related to her investors was thrown out.  To lump her in with other more insidious and dangerous corporate criminals is beyond unfair. 

So yes, justice was served.  And a message was properly sent.  But Martha Stewart received the sort of special treatment none of us would want.

Closing Argument is a regular segment on 'The Abrams Report.' The Abrams Report airs weeknights, 6 p.m. ET

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