Life’s lessons

2/24/2017, 12:55 p.m.

Life is full of lessons, as we all learn, no matter how long we live or how far or high we may go.

Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney learned a big one this week with Steven Hammond Jr., a felon he hired to work in his office in the position of executive assistant.

Mr. Hammond, a former program coordinator at the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, pleaded guilty in July 2014 to stealing more than $239,000 from the department’s educational programs to combat underage drinking.

The white collar criminal faced 10 years in prison, but was sentenced in January 2015 by a federal district court judge to three years probation and 240 hours of community service. He also was ordered to pay restitution at $150 per month.

What helped, according to the judge, was Mr. Hammond’s remorse, telling the judge that he had let down the people closest to him in a misguided effort to provide for his family and others. It also helped that several prominent people and politicians were in court on his behalf, including Delegate Lamont Bagby of Henrico, Delegate Jeffrey M. Bourne of Richmond, who both were School Board members for their respective locality at the time, and Henrico County Supervisor Tyrone Nelson. Mr. Hammond more recently worked part time as a legislative aide to Delegate Bagby.

Mayor Stoney hired Mr. Hammond in late January upon the recommendation of Delegate Bagby and others. Mr. Hammond’s annual salary: $45,000.

We believe Mayor Stoney’s actions were commendable, particularly because the City of Richmond has been a champion of “ban the box,” deleting from employment applications the requirement that applicants check off whether they have a criminal record. The effort goes a long way toward reducing unfair barriers to employment for people with criminal records and helps ex-offenders get back on their feet as productive members of society

It also shows that Mayor Stoney is willing to act on his beliefs. As a former state cabinet secretary under Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Mayor Stoney led efforts to restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of felons who had completed their sentences. The effort helped to restore personal dignity and civic engagement for thousands of Virginians.

Mayor Stoney, through a spokesman, defended Mr. Hammond’s hiring earlier this week when news reports surfaced about his criminal conviction.

“The mayor has worked throughout his public service career to advance the idea of restorative justice,” said Jim Nolan, the mayor’s press secretary. “Steve’s hiring demonstrates that (the mayor) practices what he preaches. Steve deserves a second chance.”

But no good deed goes unpunished, the mayor learned.

Just hours after his defense of Mr. Hammond, Mayor Stoney found out he apparently didn’t have the whole story. Mr. Hammond was back in court in February 2016 for violating the terms of his probation by texting threatening messages to the mother of his children. She reportedly obtained an emergency protective order against Mr. Hammond in response. The same judge gave Mr. Hammond a stern talk rather than prison time.