By Melissa McEwan
A judge in Florida has sentenced a man charged with domestic battery to take his wife, and victim, on a date. Or as MSNBC puts it in their disgusting lede: “Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a Florida judge ruled on Tuesday that a man involved in a scuffle with his wife treat her to an evening at a local bowling alley and a romantic meal at Red Lobster.”
Judge John Hurley [who also ordered that Joseph Bray, 47 and his wife Sonja, 39, get marriage counseling] handed down this ruling instead of setting bond or slapping Bray with a prison sentence after he deemed domestic violence charges leveled by Bray’s wife to be “very, very minor.”
According to Bray’s arrest affidavit, Bray and his wife got embroiled in a spat after he failed to wish her a happy birthday. Bray’s wife claims that her husband shoved her against a sofa and grabbed her neck.
The judge, citing Bray’s otherwise clean record and the incident’s apparent lack of serious violence, did not consider Bray’s behavior a major offense. However, Bray must follow the stipulations of Hurley’s ruling very closely if he wants to avoid potential jail time.
“He’s going to stop by somewhere and he’s going to get some flowers,” Hurley said at a hearing, according to Florida newspaper Sun Sentinel. “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.”
Hurley noted that he would not typically treat a domestic violence charge in a similarly jocular or light-hearted manner.
“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,” Hurley said.
And to add to the rib-tickling tone of this whimsical domestic violence sentencing, Daniel Arkin of NBC Miami, who filed the story, amusingly wraps it up with a review of the local Red Lobster: “Fortunately for Bray and his wife, the Plantation Red Lobster receives high marks in Google Maps’ Review section.”
According to this Sun-Sentinel article on the outrageous sentencing, Hurley handed down his sentence after asking Sonja Bray, in front of her violent husband in court for abusing her, if “she was hurt or in any fear of her husband,” to which, in front of her violent husband in court for abusing her, she answered no.
After she said she wasn’t, and Hurley confirmed that Bray had no prior arrests, the judge continued his questioning with a lighter tone.
“Do you have something you like to go to?” he asked. “Is there a restaurant you like to go to?”
The woman answered that she enjoyed bowling and eating at Red Lobster. And so the judge made his decision accordingly.
“Flowers, birthday card, Red Lobster, bowling,” Hurley said.
I was, as a teenager, locked in a room with my rapist by school administrators and told, “Don’t come out until you’ve worked out your differences.” He spent the entire time threatening to kill me, my family, and my dogs, if I ever reported anything he ever did to me again. When the head counselor eventually came back to that room, I was asked if we’d managed to work things out, and I confirmed that we had.
Because I would have said anything to get the fuck out of that room.
He raped me again and again over the next three years.
I desperately hope that Sonja Bray is safe. And I hope that Judge Ha Ha Chuckles is removed from the bench immediately. He literally facilitated what could very well be part of a pattern of escalating abuse: Violence, elaborate display of romance, violence. No one who thinks that sentence is appropriate, no one who fails to recognize how it fits into a recognized abuse cycle, has any fucking business presiding over domestic abuse cases.