February 8, 2012 | 3:10pm
Update: 3:05 p.m.: Added comment from the president of Women In Distress.
Plantation's Joseph Bray is accused of pushing his wife onto a couch, putting his hand across her neck, and raising his fist to punch her. He was arrested and went before Fort Lauderdale Judge Jay Hurley for a bond hearing -- but instead of Hurley setting bail, he set Bray free on the condition that he take his wife to bowling and Red Lobster.
The court appearance ran as lead story in today's Sun-Sentinel, next to a picture of a bowling ball and a bouquet of roses. The first paragraph described a "marital spat" that "resulted in an usual [sic] bond court ruling by a perceptive judge."
How perceptive! Bray's wife likes seafood. How does she feel about being strangled? The story quotes Hurley as saying it was a "minor incident,"
and then the article calls the release conditions "whimsical."
It didn't seem particularly whimsical to us, and when we called domestic violence advocate Haley Cutler, she wasn't happy either. In addition to the terms of release, Cutler took exception to the way the entire hearing was run -- particularly the part where Hurley asked the alleged victim what she wanted to see happen. Frequently, battered women don't actually ask for anything to happen to their attackers, she said.
"That's why we don't put that on victims. That's why we have criminal law that says that's a crime," Cutler said. "[Hurley] just doesn't get it... and by making light of this, not only did he put this victim in greater danger but contributed to a culture where the system works for batterers and not victims."
Cutler also sent a mass email calling for community members to call Chief Judge Peter Weinstein to demand that Hurley apologize and "participate in judiciary training about the dynamics of domestic violence."
"Judge Hurley's ruling makes light of the real risks posed to domestic violence victims, demonstrates a lack of understanding about the dynamics of domestic violence and contributes to a culture and climate where victims feel betrayed by the system and batterers feel empowered by it," the message says.
Judicial assistant Marjorie McClain said that Hurley couldn't comment on an open case, "but I can give you my two cents." Those cents included the statement that "from what we're looking at, people are trying to make more of it than it really was."
"When I saw it in the paper this morning... it looked like he was trying to reconcile the marriage," McClain said. "He didn't really think it was a true domestic violence event that people think about."
For what it's worth, choking your wife fits pretty much every definition of a domestic violence event, and a study from the National Institute of Justice found that women whose partners tried to choke them were almost ten times as likely
to be murdered by their spouses compared to other women.
Hurley's final ruling was "flowers, birthday card, Red Lobster, bowling," plus marriage counseling, though Bray does still faces a charge of misdemeanor domestic battery. The Orlando Sentinel
has video of the whole courtroom exchange
to go along with the special extended director's cut of the dumb Sun-Sentinel
We requested comment from the article's author but haven't yet heard back.
We also spoke to Mary Riedel, president of Women In Distress, the only certified domestic violence center in Broward County. She said she'd put in calls to both Hurley and Weinstein and left a message inviting Hurley to tour the Women in Distress facilities.
"We're very disappointed in his comments and the way this was handled in his courtroom," Riedel said. "It is not [a problem] solved with a night out to dinner. ... I'm sure while informed on many issues -- and I want to believe he didn't not do this purposefully -- today's push could be tomorrow's lethal shot."
She said the ruling's timing was exacerbated by several domestic violence deaths in Broward County last month and February's position as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
"At the very time we're trying to tell our young people about healthy relationships," she said, "What kind of message does this send?"
And, in case you or someone you love needs it: Women In Distress, maintains a 24-hour hotline for victims of abuse at 954-761-1133.