Recently, Seminole County Judge Jerri Collins sentenced a woman to three days in jail on a contempt of court charge for failure to appear as a witness.  The defendant was the father of her child.  The witness was the victim, who according to reports was abused by the father of her child – choking her, slamming her against a microwave, and threatening her with a knife.  There is a YouTube video which records the conversation between the Judge and the victim/witness in open court.   The victim didn’t show because she was afraid that the abuser would not be able to pay child support after going to jail and losing his job.

The Judge has come under criticism.  John Romano makes the statement that judges should have “some modicum of human decency. . .”  Pinellas/Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger found the Judge’s actions “totally outrageous”.[1]

In the Judge’s defense, Attorney Mark O’Mara points out that she was within her authority and not necessarily out of line.[2]

A victim who does not show at the trial of her abuser is not an uncommon occurrence in the court system.  The criticism leveled against the Judge relates to her demeanor and perceived lack of empathy, together with the harshness of the sentence.  This would appear to be the true issue.

This matter underscores the difficult position judges are placed in when it comes to domestic violence criminal matters and domestic violence return hearings in civil court.  Oftentimes, patience is tested and frustration comes to the surface.  This is why a judge’s demeanor is his or her most important quality, surpassing intelligence and legal experience.  When persons are treated with dignity, it is possible to understand the truth of the matter and, therefore, it is possible to obtain justice.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

[1] Roman, J. (October 12, 2015). Judge’s disgraceful actions add to domestic abuse victim’s pain.  Tampa Bay Times.  Retrieved from

[2] O’Mara, M. (October 13, 2015). Lady Justice prevails only when all witnesses take stand.  Orlando Sentinel.  Retrieved from