Dear Judge Hurley: Date Night Won’t Cure Spousal Abuse

Judge John “Jay” Hurley, don’t make me come down there to Florida and go all Women’s Studies 101 on you. Seriously, domestic violence is not funny. You, sir, are not funny.

When Joseph Bray, 47, and his wife Sonja, 39, of Plantation, Florida, came before your bench this week, you should have been smarter. Let’s examine the facts: They had a fight. He grabbed her, shoved her into a couch, put his hands around her neck, and held up his fist to hit her, though, as you ascertained, he did not actually hit her with that fist. This was not the first time Sonja called the police on her violent husband. You confirmed this as well.

Then you asked her, the crying wife whose husband had choked her, if she was afraid of her husband. You asked, “If he gets out of jail will he cause you harm?” She said, “No, I love my husband.” Shocker!

Now, Judge, listen up. Here is where you fucked up. What Sonja was bringing to the court was a case of domestic violence. Not something “very, very minor,” as you called it. Releasing Joseph on his own recognizance was a bad move.

Never once asking a substantial question of Joseph, the violent husband, something like “Why did you hurt your wife?” was a bad move.

But your worst move, hands down, was when you got all chummy and avuncular with Sonja, the still-crying wife, and made this offer in lieu of bond:

He’s going to stop by somewhere and he’s going to get some flowers…and then he’s going to go home, pick up his wife, get dressed, take her to Red Lobster. And then after they have Red Lobster, they’re going to go bowling.

Joseph’s lawyer chuckled and asked you, “Does he have to let her win?”

It’s all over YouTube, Judge. 2000 hits and climbing.

Perhaps you sensed trouble because in a CYA moment of clarity, you added a caveat: You don’t usually treat domestic violence with jocularity. “The court would not normally [make this ruling] if the court felt there was some violence but this is very, very minor and the court felt that that was a better resolution than the other alternatives.”

Wrong, very wrong, your Judgeship. In fact, it is these “other alternatives” that are most needed. You could have put Joseph on probation. You could have imposed Florida’s maximum misdemeanor penalty of one year in jail. You could have ordered that he attend a batterer’s intervention program. You could have issued that no-contact order. Or, if you are so bent on being “creative,” you could have taken a page from California, which requires offenders to pay a $400 payment to fund domestic violence programs. Any of these could send the message to Joseph, and other menacing guys like him, that laying hands on your partner will not be tolerated by the courts–that the cost of hurting women is too high.

Read a book, Judge Jay. Talk to women. Read a blog, for god’s sake. Rich Abdill of The Pulp says:

For what it’s worth, choking your wife fits pretty much every definition of a domestic violence event, and a study from the National Institute of Justice found that women whose partners tried to choke them were almost ten times as likely to be murdered by their spouses compared to other women.

Until you do all of the above, I suggest you take a leave from the bench. Too bad your Pike frat brother at Florida State University, Charlie Crist, the guy who appointed you to this post, is no longer governor. He could have found something else for you to do while you study up on the cycle of domestic violence. Here is a primer: A man hurts a woman. Then he courts her with flowers, candy, and dinner until she forgives him. This is called the honeymoon period. Then the man hurts the woman again. It is a well-documented pattern, Jay. It never ends well if left alone. It gets worse when judges like you encourage the cycle.

Photo from Flickr user ericmgibson under Creative Commons.


  1. Just a note: in the domestic violence service provision field we refer to this as strangling rather than “choking.” Choking is what I do when something goes down the wrong pipe. Strangling is what happens when someone places their hands around my neck to cut off my oxygen.

    Good reporting otherwise, though. Totally speechless at the many layers of wrong here.

  2. Wow, this just shows such a lack of… everything on the judge’s part. Not to mention that I probably wouldn’t feel that court ordered flowers and birthday cards would really soothe me after something like that.

  3. What a sick, sick joke. I suggest someone with local legal knowledge take action to get this judge removed from the bench.

  4. Also, the “Cycle of Abuse” has been widely disregarded in the domestic violence movement because it does not reflect the experiences of many survivors of abuse. We use the “Power and Control Wheel” (check out for a variety of wheels) which was created after discussions with survivors from a variety of backgrounds. You may want to update your article with this information.

  5. From the point of view of a former law enforcement officer, Judge Hurley’s actions in this case are cause for grave concern. Hopefully he will recuse himself and Ms. Bray will get the consideration the Court should be giving her before anything worse happens.

  6. Unless this judge wants this woman to be dead within the next few months, he would do something to protect this woman. He clearly doesn’t care if she lives or dies…and we all know that men who abuse their (female) partners end up dead way too often.

  7. If this weren’t true, it would be unbelievable. I wonder how minor the judge would think it was if someone tried to strangle him. I doubt he’d take a trip to the red lobster and some flowers in lieu of suitable punishment.

  8. Cathy Nicastro says:

    Thank you, Donna, for writing this. It is difficult and depressing to believe that in this day and age, ANYONE (let alone a judge) would be so clueless as to think this was minor abuse (is there even such a thing?) I pray that she is able to get out and get help before it is too late.

  9. Caitlin Reck says:

    This is so absurd and a horrible joke! It is scary that people with that kind of power can be so uneducated. Well said, Donna!

  10. This is not Women’s Studies 101. If the facts in the police affidavit are true, Judge Hurley ordered a criminal to take his victim on a date. If I get hit by a drunk driver, I hope the system would provide more justice than an evening on the town with the defendant. The blinders need to come off. Domestic violence is no less violent because the perpetrator and victim know each other.

    • If you get hit by a drunk driver, you probably won’t plead with the judge to give the driver a light sentence because you “don’t want anything bad to happen to him” like Mrs. Bray did.

      • Many domestic violence victims live in fear of what might happen to them if something bad were to happen to “him.” They know they will eventually be blamed for whatever is bad in their abuser’s life and suffer the consequences. Others suffer from such low self esteem that they are afraid of life outside the cycle of abuse. They learn to live for the honeymoon periods and treat the abuse as a part of their normal existence. They believe it when they are told that they can’t survive without the abuser in their lives. Under those circumstances, one would expect an abused spouse to say they don’t want anything bad to happen to their abuser. Judge Hurley should know that.

      • donna decker says:

        You might. You sure might plead with the judge to give the drunk driver a light sentence if that drunk driver were right in the very courtroom with you glaring at you and if he scared the beejeebers out of you every day and if he lived with you and was going home – to the privacy of your house — with you and if you knew that telling the truth would surely make the next beating worse.

  11. Just to back up the earlier comment re. the cycle of abuse: it has been discredited for years now not least because the original research was on;y done on white women, a relatively small sample of around 100 and half of them didn’t have a phase 3 or 4. Please stop using it – it’s wrong.

    • Amy Stevens says:

      This is the first I’m hearing of this change in terms, and I bet a lot of my contemporaries who learned the cycle of abuse terminology when they were in college as it was used to help illustrate a phenomenon many of us were lucky to never experience. Maybe Ms. can do a special blog post updating the rest of us? Maybe they have and could re-post. I fear I perpetuated this misinformation myself, when teaching Women’s Studies, as the research never made it into my curriculum.

  12. Awanida Gvhe says:

    this guy clearly doesn’t understand the severity of this case, he needs to be taken off the bench.

  13. Juliann DePierro says:

    Just when I think we might be making progress in the world that still struggles against domestic and sexual assault, I hear this news story. Please Judge Hurley don’t make a mockery of this very serious issue! Rulings like this is what continues to make this a silent crime…no justice…. only more silence. Judge Hurley please come down off the bench and spend some quality time with survivors of domestic violence and/or some of the wonderful organizations that tirelessly support domestic violence survivors/families. After one short visit, you might just gain a new perspective.

  14. Maybe someone should make a call to the Judge’s wife and just check that she is not in need of some DV counseling? It could be that the Judge knew full well the cycle of domestic violence and he was just moving the abuser along to that next step that he was familiar with himself? I’m just asking, that’s all….

  15. Penny Darling says:

    Many thanks for this article! Those concerned, please TAKE ACTION: Tell Chief Judge Weinstein about your concerns regarding the innappropriate ruling made by Judge Hurley. Hurley’s offer in lieu of bond makes light of the real risks posed to domestic violence victims, demonstrates a lack of understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence and contributes to a culture and climate where victims feel betrayed by the system and batterers feel empowered by it. Judge Hurley should publicly apologize for the inappropriateness of this ruling and participate in judiciary training about the dynamics of domestic violence. Chief Judge Weinstein can be notified of your concerns about Judge Hurley by phone at (954) 831-5506 or by mail at Broward County Courthouse, 201 SE 6th St. Room 801A. Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301.

  16. Ella Seicelle says:

    Pretty scary having people like him defending the law. *shutters*

  17. So totally UNBELIEVABLE !!! What the hell was this “judge” aka officer of the law thinking?? I do not know how many other states have this law. but recently New York State added “Strangulation” as separate charge anytime a spouse, partner, etc is assaulted. Below is the penal law of NY State on this matter:

    ARTICLE 121
    Section 121.11 Criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation.
    121.12 Strangulation in the second degree.
    121.13 Strangulation in the first degree.
    121.14 Medical or dental purpose.

    S 121.11 Criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation.
    A person is guilty of criminal obstruction of breathing or blood
    circulation when, with intent to impede the normal breathing or
    circulation of the blood of another person, he or she:
    a. applies pressure on the throat or neck of such person; or
    b. blocks the nose or mouth of such person.
    Criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation is a class A misdemeanor.

    S 121.12 Strangulation in the second degree.
    A person is guilty of strangulation in the second degree when he or
    she commits the crime of criminal obstruction of breathing or blood
    circulation, as defined in section 121.11 of this article, and thereby
    causes stupor, loss of consciousness for any period of time, or any
    other physical injury or impairment.
    Strangulation in the second degree is a class D felony.

    S 121.13 Strangulation in the first degree.
    A person is guilty of strangulation in the first degree when he or she
    commits the crime of criminal obstruction of breathing or blood
    circulation, as defined in section 121.11 of this article, and thereby
    causes serious physical injury to such other person.
    Strangulation in the first degree is a class C felony.

    S 121.14 Medical or dental purpose.
    For purposes of sections 121.11, 121.12 and 121.13 of this article, it
    shall be an affirmative defense that the defendant performed such
    conduct for a valid medical or dental purpose.

  18. I am thoroughly disgusted. I stood before Judge Hurley last February after getting arrested for defending myself against a physically abusive boyfriend… He ordered a $15,000 dollar bond before I could get out on pre-trial release with a protection order plus a GPS monitor so I couldn’t go within 500 feet of OUR apartment. After 26 weeks of batterers prevention and testimony from my boyfriend that he initially lied to the police… The charges were completely dropped by the state. Man, in lieu of all the bond/attorney/drug testing/class fees, I would have gladly took my FORMER boyfriend out to dinner!

  19. I still remember his hands around my neck.
    Been there, got out, and survived violence and threats of violence. Jail time–short and on an unrelated charge–gave my ex-husband time to cool down and think about where he wanted to be. He became a sane ex and a good father. But The cycle of violence is real, I lived it. But people can learn, if they live long enough.

  20. Abused women cannot speak for themselves while they are being abused. They do not operate on logic. Abused women do not differentiate between love and abuse. Her answer to his question was that SHE loved her husband, not that he loved her, or that he protected her, or took care of her. This man is going to go to a pawn shop, pick up a gun, and we’ll be seeing this story on the news again in 6wks-6months with a very different outcome for Sonja.

    When I faced the same court process, I begged for the court to ‘treat’ my abuser because I believed the drugs made him hurt me. I begged them to be ‘gentle’ with him, because I feared for his pain. After I was treated by a local shelter and women’s counseling group I realized just who warped my mind had become under his control. Abused women think about the abuser, not themselves – that is the power and cycle of abuse.

    Shame on this judge. Shame on these attorneys. Karma be swift and just, for Sonja and for women everywhere.

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