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 and spousal abuse are 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.

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Donna Decker is Associate Professor of English at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH. She is also Director of the university's Women in Leadership Certificate Program.