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June 25, 2012

"Utah mom upset over judge's hair-cut punishment"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing AP article about a (too?) creative state sentencing in a juvenile court.  Here are the details:

A Utah mother says she felt intimidated in court when a judge told her that he would reduce her 13-year-old daughter's sentence if she chopped off the girl's ponytail in court — an offer the mother says she now wishes she hadn't taken.

Valerie Bruno, of Price, said she has filed a formal complaint against 7th District Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen with the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission. The teenager and an 11-year-old friend were referred to juvenile court for cutting off the hair of a 3-year-old girl with scissors in March and for harassing another girl in Colorado by telephone.

When the 13-year-old faced Johansen for a hearing in May, he ordered she serve 30 days in detention and to perform 276 hours of community service, but he also offered to take 150 hours of community service off the sentence if her mother cut her ponytail in his courtroom.

Bruno is now expressing regret for not consulting an attorney before taking her daughter into the courtroom. "I guess I should have went into the courtroom knowing my rights, because I felt very intimidated," she told the Deseret News. "An eye for an eye, that's not how you teach kids right from wrong."

Mindy Moss, mother of the 3-year-old whose hair was cut off, said she approved of the sentence and even spoke up during the hearing when she felt Bruno had not cut off enough of her daughter's hair. Johansen then directed Bruno to cut the ponytail all the way "to the rubber band."

Moss told The Salt Lake Tribune that she originally called police about the haircut because she worried the girls' behavior could become more serious. "I didn't want them to think they got away with it … It was malicious," Moss said.

Under state law, judges are given discretion in coming up with sanctions for youth that will change their behavior in a positive way. Johansen ordered the friend of Bruno's daughter to have her hair cut as short as his. She was allowed to go to a salon to have it done, then return to the courtroom to ensure that the new hairstyle met with the judge's approval.

I know of plenty of lawyers who get upset when a judge orders a hair-cut on their fee requests.  I also know that prisoners often complain if and when prison officials require them to get haircuts.  But this is the first time I have seen a concern about a hair-cut as part of a sentencing ruling.

June 25, 2012 at 09:55 AM | Permalink


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Why is this a problem? The judge did not ORDER the girl's hair to be cut. He offered the mother a choice. If the mother made a choice she is no longer happy with, then she needs to look in the mirror.

If my child had done that, I would have cut her hair happily AND would tell the judge not to lighten the sentence.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 25, 2012 1:15:40 PM

I think the child has the makings of a future bully, and if the judge saw it fit to teach her a lesson that way, I think it's fine. Her hair will grow out anyway.

Posted by: Anne Roberts | Jun 25, 2012 4:15:19 PM

Heartened by previous comments…
Mother is fickle, c'est dommage ma cherie.

'Eye for an eye' is proportional justice, i.e. making the punishment or recompense fit the crime or offence.
The judge was deferential and lenient as says TarlsQtr.

Is anyone reminded of the murderer who is given less than capital punishment in a plea but then still appeals the merciful sentence he received? The mother is being a poor role model, me thinks.

-<<-Certain regular bloggers on this site might support the daughter's "ineffective maternal counsel", notwithstanding.->>-

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 25, 2012 4:35:43 PM

The fact that the mother expressed regret over the fact is interesting in and of itself, and says a fair amount about how different components of a sentence are evaluated. It sounds as if her consent to this (probably without really asking the daughter) has deeply, maybe irrevocably destroyed the mother-daughter relationship.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jun 25, 2012 5:07:28 PM

i'm with tarls as well. if she's been my daugher the judge would not have been able to even elect that as a punismnet. She'd have walked into that court room BALD! once i heard about what she did! Just so she could see what it felt like to have someone screw with her hair!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 25, 2012 6:32:09 PM

I know that this was posted for comic relief (at least in part), but as someone who practices in delinquency court, this strikes me as one of the most vivid examples of why juveniles should not be able to waive counsel. This was the 11 year old girl's case, not the mother's. If the child violates probation, she is the one placed in detention, not the mother. If there are collateral consequences of this adjudication, they will be suffered by the child, not the parent. The judge's proposition was likely within his discretion, but the decision was to be made by the child, with the guidance of HER attorney, and not by her mother. As a mother myself of a girl this age, I know that my motivations for wanting a particular sentence for this admittedly bad conduct would be very different than what my daughter might want. The mother's instinct that she should have had an attorney with her was correct -- she is ultimately the one accountable here, not the judge.

Posted by: Tamar Birckhead | Jun 25, 2012 9:32:39 PM

Is there no longer any dispute in life so minor that the police and courts won't decline an invitation to get involved?

Posted by: C.E. | Jun 25, 2012 10:59:37 PM

C.E. sums it up pretty well.

Posted by: John K | Jun 26, 2012 7:57:14 AM

Dear Tamar Birckhead!! Great work! This is the type of info that should be shared around the internet. I completely agree with most of the article. Thanks a lot.

Posted by: salt lake city lawyers | Jul 10, 2012 1:36:19 AM

I guess I should have went into the courtroom knowing my rights. It seems that something unhappy happened.

Posted by: beyonce wig | Dec 4, 2012 10:09:08 PM

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