As beautifully reported in the New York Times, the judge who oversaw the trial of Bernard L. Madoff thought long and hard about the sentence for the confessed swindler. Judge Denny Chin knew that the sentence itself would speak for itself – and that his sentencing statement would be widely quoted.
His decision to hand down a 150-year sentence would send a “loud, decisive message” about the legal violations on their own merits. But it was only after hearing several victims’ stories of personal financial devastation did the judge crystallize the statement he would give along with the sentence. His law clerks told him that news crews had gathered early to broadcast every syllable uttered in the courtroom.
Judge Chin was well aware that his statement needed to contain terse, quotable elements. As reported by the Times, “One of the traditional notions of punishment,” [Judge Chin] wrote, “is that an offender should be punished in proportion to his blameworthiness.” Mr. Madoff’s crimes were “extraordinarily evil,” he added.
“Extraordinarily evil” summed up everything about the Madoff deception. Journalists seized on the phrase and it ricocheted around the world in headlines, leads and photo cutlines. “Extraordinarily evil:” moral judgment, empathy and perspective in two words.