Judge overreacted to Johnson's slap

Memo to Judge Kathleen McHugh in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.:

Lighten up. It was a slap on the fanny. That's all it was. It came from a guy, Chad Johnson, who did not argue against a charge that he head-butted his wife in an argument. You, as the judge presiding in the original court case last year, had approved a sentence for the head-butt of probation and community service.

Then when Johnson failed to show up to a meeting with a probation officer, he landed back in front of you on Monday. You agreed to add three months' probation, community service and counseling to his original sentence but declined to send him to jail for his probation violation.

Then you took a serious proceeding and interjected a bit of casualness yourself -- asking him whether he was happy with his lawyer's work on his behalf. Yes, he was happy. He described the lawyer as "awesome." The description may not have been original, but the slap on the fanny confirmed his high opinion of his lawyer.

We all know, of course, that the Circuit Court of Broward County is a place where important matters are pondered and resolved, and we know that you must protect the dignity and the majesty of the court against unwanted intrusions of locker room levity and sophomoric behavior. There are victims in these cases, and it would be wholly out of line for a defendant to turn a judicial proceeding into a casual affair that might indicate justice is not being served and that he or she does not show proper contrition for his or her crime.

But, judge, you went too far. All you had to do was suggest to him that he was not nearly as cute as he thought he was. You could have given him a warning. Instead you decided that a guy who was on probation for a head-butt would serve 30 days in jail for a slap on the backside.

What was it, judge? The laughter in the courtroom? They were not laughing at you. They were laughing with Johnson as he expressed his relief that a humiliating and expensive episode was drawing to a close.

C'mon, judge. Johnson will be in jail Monday night. That's enough. If you let him out on Tuesday, you will have made your point. If you keep him in the Broward County Jail for 30 days, you will always be the judge who could not distinguish between a vicious head-butt and a triumphant slap on the fanny.

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