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June 11, 2013

Celebrity injustice?: NFL player Chad Johnson gets 30-days in county jail for lawyer butt pat

0610-chad-johnson-video-launch-1As reported in this CNN piece, "Butt pat lands former NFL star Chad Johnson in jail," a low-level sentencing proceeding involving a high-profile defendant in Florida state court has become interesting fodder for debating courtroom decorum and celebrity justice. Here are the intriguing details:

As an NFL player, Chad Johnson patted a lot of men on the butt when he liked their work, but on Monday, defendant Chad Johnson found out that one Florida courtroom was not the place to play that game.

After Johnson patted his lawyer on the rear, Judge Kathleen McHugh rejected Johnson's plea to a probation violation in the domestic violence case involving Johnson and his then-wife, Evelyn Lozada. Johnson was arrested in May for not meeting with his probation officer and was in court Monday to enter a plea.

After he was asked if he was pleased with his attorney, the former wide receiver once known as "Chad Ochocinco" gave his lawyer, Adam Swickle, a gentle pat on the rear.

McHugh was furious when people in the audience laughed. "There's nothing funny about what's going on here today," she told Johnson.

Johnson, 35, replied that he wasn't laughing. Then McHugh said, "I don't think anything's funny about it, Mr. Johnson. This isn't a joke."

Johnson said he didn't do it as a joke. Swickle agreed, saying: "I don't think it was done as any disrespect to the court. I don't think he meant to get a reaction from the court room, judge."

The judge told Johnson she wouldn't accept a plea deal that involved only community service and more anger management counseling. Instead, she sentenced him to 30 days in jail and tacked three months onto his one-year probation, which would have ended in September.

Johnson seemed resigned to his fate. "Love me through the good and the bad because I'm gone love you regardless... See you in 30... " he tweeted later.

As I write this post, I am hearing Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith on First Take yelling at each other about sentencing practices, race, gender, incarceration and courtroom activities.  Given that there is this video of what went down (with the key event just before the one-minute mark, and the judge's (over?)reaction just before the two-minute mark), I hope readers will provide their own takes on this notable example of celebrity sentencing.  

June 11, 2013 at 10:36 AM | Permalink


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Not a defender of any form of DV and don't know the first thing about the underlying facts of this case, but from that video it did not appear that he was being disrespectful or joking. He appeared to be seriously thanking his attorney in a way that was familiar and normal to him. The judge sentenced him not for what he did, but for the reaction from the room. Insecure judge.

Posted by: Ala JD | Jun 11, 2013 10:46:28 AM

The celebrity aspect is uninteresting. I'm much more interested in the reaction to what I consider offensive conduct by the judge. Nothing seems proportionate about her reaction to a perceived slight, and her inappropriate anger seems to be misdirected. If I were the defendant, or his attorney, I would have serious questions about the quality of justice in that court, and thus in that county. Of course, since she is an all powerful judge with "eff you" power there's not much to be done. And that is what is interesting. Because it is disgusting.

Posted by: Matt | Jun 11, 2013 11:44:51 AM

I do not know what aspect of "celebrity justice" is at issue here other than a celebrity being involved. The same thing could have occurred with someone else.

As to the response, it does seem unfair, but it was honestly stupid for him to pat the guy's butt in that situation & the laughter was a natural response to such a move. It was in bad form and he should have known, especially while he was still standing in front of the judge as she was announcing her judgment, it was not appropriate. I don't know the judge or if she would have been as bothered if something else was involved. Domestic violence is particularly sensitive and she might be particularly concerned about him not taking it serious or doing something playful or "boys will be boys" in that case.

The response still seemed overdone and it would not be surprising if she later in some fashion cuts it back.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 11, 2013 12:07:18 PM

The Supremacy will be targeting this judge for a long series of disciplinary complaints. They will continue until she is driven out.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 11, 2013 12:59:48 PM

Not related to the arrest, but still with legal issues:

Isn't Chad's official last name "Ocho Cinco" as he had legally changed it to honor his playing number (85)? If so, did he either change his name back to Johnson, or was Ocho Cinco never an official name, but rather his "media" name?

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jun 11, 2013 1:44:07 PM

1.} | "[S]he ran "to a neighbor's house to get away from" him. Davie police officer soon responded and found Johnson's wife with an approximately 3-inch cut in the middle of her forehead. |

2.} | "Johnson already has a domestic battery conviction on his record, as he was arrested for hitting his girlfriend in 2000 and later pleaded no contest ... He was able to work out a deal in which he avoided jail time ... Johnson later had more
time added to his community service requirements because he didn’t complete them in a timely manner, and he
didn’t finish the graffiti cleanup or the counseling until 2002" |

3.}| "After he was asked if he was pleased with his attorney..."Chad Ochocinco" gave his lawyer, Adam Swickle, a gentle pat on the rear." |

//Joe : : "but it was honestly stupid ... It was in bad form and he should have known, especially while he was still standing in front of the judge as she was announcing her judgment, it was not appropriate." //


Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 11, 2013 1:45:39 PM

Seems like a dumb reason to send someone to jail. If she thought the domestic battery was enough to send him to jail, fine, send him to jail for that. But I don't see the sense in sending him to jail for patting his attorney on the butt.

Part of the problem I have with this is that it appears to suggest that cutting your girlfriend may be forgivable, but patting your attorney on the butt to indicate your satisfaction is not. That's just wrong.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Jun 11, 2013 4:12:00 PM

So what if it was "bad form"? Bad form shouldn't land one in jail for 30 days. Ala JD expressed it perfectly: insecure judge.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 11, 2013 6:22:45 PM

I am a federal criminal defense attorney, female. It seems to me that it was intended as a sort of joke. It was funny. I don't think the underlying offense was funny. But the butt slap was. The Judge said that his attorney was a good one, he -- an NFL player -- responded with an butt slap. People tell jokes in court. Clients tell jokes in Court. If the joke is bad, or in bad taste, the judge is right to rebuke someone. But incarceration is a bit over the top. I think a person can intend it to be funny, in Court, without intending any disrespect to the Court. The Judge herself, looked like she was trying not to smile. A moment of levity in a serious situation is sometimes very welcome. Judges seem to go out of their way to make the occasional funny. A bad joke is not a crime.

Posted by: Blair | Jun 11, 2013 6:58:15 PM

I noted the response seemed unfair but it is not merely "insecure" for a judge during a domestic violence matter to be upset with someone who seemed to not take seriously the situation in the sense that as the judge is giving the judgment, he pats his lawyer on the butt. This disrespects the court as a whole, not just her, and shows something of a lack of concern for the seriousness of the situation. Such concern is a factor in granting a person a plea deal. "Bad form,"* or whatever you want to call it, matters.

With respect, Blair, I don't think it was really a time for "levity." The moment was a time for him to be serious and understand that he was getting a break, and accept the seriousness of his crime and the situation as a whole. It was not 'a crime,' but if he cracked some joke, or something worse than this, it would not have been acceptable. This does not mean the penalty was due.


* "Bad form" without discussing the whole context doesn't really address the situation. At some point, "bad form" is what contempt of court can be. It is not following proper practice for the situation.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 11, 2013 10:59:38 PM

I agree with Adamakis and Joe.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 11, 2013 11:46:10 PM

I believe that she overreacted.

Posted by: Just Plain Jim | Jun 12, 2013 4:38:39 AM

I have to agree with Adamakis, slapping your lawyer on the butt is a stupid reason to send someone to jail. But yet part of me thinks he was in a court of law and should have behaved with more decorum.

Posted by: Patrick K | Jun 12, 2013 4:47:53 AM


The idea of pleading to this judge is repulsive.

No judicial temperament. Brings opprobrium on the court, that is already notorious. Humorless. Serves on Domestic Abuse Court. Feminist. Racist. Hate filled. Uses her powers to express hatred of men. Acts as prosecutor. Needs a psychiatric evaluation. Needs to go. Administrative judge should relieve her of her duties and reassign all her cases.

This self-serious lawyer should be sentenced to being boycotted by all service and product providers.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 12, 2013 6:37:26 AM

Once this would have struck me as yet another example of acting out by yet another asshole with too much power.

But now it's what I've come to expect from the purportedly co-equal judicial branch that mostly carries water for the tough-talking executive branch when it's not genuflecting to the tough-talking legislative branch. If judges really want respect they ought to do something about that.

The only ones left for the Judge Judys of the world to flex on are the hapless bastards standing in the docket. Nancy Grace must be proud.

If I were a judge, I hope I'd take into account that even celebrities are subject to nervous impulses when standing before someone empowered to put them in a cage.

Posted by: JohnK | Jun 12, 2013 8:20:46 AM

Brilliantly stated, JohnK. I hope the judge in this case reads your spot-on remarks and considers the disrepute such intemperate conduct invites for the judiciary. I have to remind myself, even as a non-believer, to resist the temptation to wish that the biblical addage "Judge not lest ye be judged" would come true for the great lot of the "honorable" judges who reflect this type of imperiousness.

Posted by: DCH | Jun 12, 2013 10:37:29 AM

Yep another typical two-faced asswipe of a judge who thinks her shit doesn't stink like the rest of us. Another good target for a baseball bat in a dark alley!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 12, 2013 1:20:23 PM

When I was 17, I chanced to observe my Mother, a defense attorney, as she went before a Town Justice / former social worker in about the smallest venue imaginable, in Big Flats, New York [upstate].
She showed more respect to that judge in that tiny courtroom than a medieval vassal to his lord
[and she was not a repeat domestic abuser!].

Hopefully, some herein recognize that this probation violator -- who was convicted of domestic violence and was
prepared to admit to violating probation as well -- was in no position to answer the Judge's question in such a
weird and disrespectful way.

He is 35 years old, not 17, and if he continues to use violence against women and ignore terms of probation, he will earn increasingly heavier penalties. fna Ocho Cinco ought use Judge McHugh's firmness as an opportunity to go straight.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 12, 2013 3:47:53 PM

There is a bigger picture here. Isn't a plea deal a contract? Didn't he wave numerous rights to enter into that contract? Didn't the judge violate that contract? And to add insult to injury, she sentenced him to 30 days and says he has 30 days to appeal. How many would actually appeal and follow through after their 30, or 10 or 20 or 90 days are up? What does this say about plea bargains?

Posted by: George | Jun 12, 2013 9:05:24 PM

I agree with Adamakis, Johnson needs to learn and the judge's ruling hopefully will help.

Posted by: Sandra Dotch | Jun 12, 2013 10:46:09 PM

There should be zero tolerance for the VFL in any institution. She is all out enemy of the patriarchal American family. Time to clean house. Zero tolerance of this racist, feminist, and disturbed judge.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 13, 2013 2:53:01 AM

I don't think Johnson will learn anything from this other than that judges may abuse their power as they wish and a significant swath of the legal community will back them no matter what. There was no mens rea here. Johnson had no ill intent. It was the judge who went out of her way to praise his lawyer and Johnson turned to him and said good job. The butt pat was essentially reflex, IMO, not an intentional joke, judging from his overall demeanor, the expression on his face, etc.. Ala JD nailed it: He was punished for the reaction from the room, the judge's own personal insecurities, and for his celebrity, not for what he did.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 13, 2013 6:08:58 AM

One way to look at this case is that the Johnson was about to get a nice, sweet deal, acted casually on an occasion not calling for a casual attitude, then lost the sweet deal in favor of the regular deal most people in that situation would get. This is not something I lose sleep over.

A second way to look at it is that 30 days for the second episode of domestic abuse is STILL a sweet deal, and I'm not going to lose any sleep over that either.

A third way to look at it is that a big, young, strong, rich sports celebrity is going to spend 30 days signing autographs and telling neat stories to the inmates. Not losing sleep there either.

And finally, we can look at it as an episode illustrating that judges have their good days and bad days and have temperaments just like the rest of us. This should (but won't) be a message to those who want to completely end the role of the legislature in sentencing and restore 100% discretion to the judge.

Sentencing is at its best when subject to influence by all three branches, not just left to whoever shows up in the black robe that particular day.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 13, 2013 11:09:50 AM

// "She is [an] all out enemy of the patriarchal American family. Time to clean house. Zero tolerance of this racist, feminist, and disturbed judge."//

Not so much in this case. C. Ocho Johnson is out to destroy the faces of women who sass him.

O. Cinco was not maintaining his American family. He has fathered at least 4 children whom he acknowledges:
to which of the children's mothers was he ever wed?

Finally marrying a woman in July and then splitting her face open with a head butt in August?

He is an enemy of the decent American family, and a disgrace to fathers and men.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 13, 2013 12:35:12 PM

Supremacy Clause said it perfectly. If she gets fired some person needs to give her a pat on the butt on the way out the door.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jun 14, 2013 12:07:26 AM

Liberty1st --

But she's not getting fired because her actions were perfectly legal. Giving an NFL player 30 days for a head-butt assault on a woman half his size is hardly a draconian, much less an illegal, sentence.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 14, 2013 1:35:07 PM

Except she didn't give him 30 days for the head-butt assault on his girlfriend. She gave him 30 days for the butt-pat on his lawyer.

Posted by: JohnK | Jun 14, 2013 3:54:50 PM

John K --

"Except she didn't give him 30 days for the head-butt assault on his girlfriend. She gave him 30 days for the butt-pat on his lawyer."

She was all ready to cut him a break, whether deserved or not, for head-butting the girlfriend. When he showed that he considered the whole thing no more serious than a few jokes on the practice field, she had a change of heart.

You liberals need to get your message straight. First we hear about the conservative "war on women." Then, when a woman gets assaulted by an NFL player, and a conservative judge actually does something (although not much) about it, what we hear instead is that the sentence -- a big 30 days -- is out of line.

He's lucky it was just 30 days, which he can and will do standing on his head. And if he doesn't want to antagonize the judge, act at least a little serious in court. He's 30, not 13.

Honestly, you liberals will grouse about anything. Why don't you complain about something important, like Obama's universal snooping. Oh, wait, I forgot........to criticize Obama is to be a racist.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 14, 2013 11:57:28 PM

Bill Otis' 11:09:50 AM remark has a good amount of truth to it.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 15, 2013 8:33:07 AM

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