PRICE, Utah – 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.
Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Johansen were unsuccessful Sunday.
Colin Winchester, executive director of the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission, said the state Constitution bars him from commenting on whether a complaint has been filed against a judge. A complaint only becomes public if disciplinary action is taken against a judge, he 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.