A judge in Florida is facing outrage after she jailed a domestic violence victim for three days because she didn’t show up to testify against her abuser.
There have now been calls for elected Seminole County Judge Jerri L. Collins to resign or be impeached after video of her berating the victim and sending her to the county jail was reported on by WFTV. You can watch the video above.
Collins has not commented about her decision to jail the victim, who has not been identified publicly.
Here’s what you need to know about Judge Collins:
1. The Victim Says She Didn’t Come to Court Because of Anxiety
The victim told the judge and the state victim’s advocate that she was feeling anxiety about testifying, so she did not come to court. She told the victim’s advocate that she wanted to have the charges dropped and just move on with her life, WFTV reports. But Judge Collins showed no sympathy.
“You think you’re going to have anxiety now? You haven’t even seen anxiety,” Collins told the victim.
Collins asked her if the statements she made to police after the father of her child was arrested were true, and the victim replies that they were.
“Then why wouldn’t you come to testify?” Collins asked.
The woman replied, “I’m just not in a good place right now.”
Collins then said, “And violating your court order did not do anything for you. I find you in contempt of court. I hereby sentence you to three days in the county jail.”
The women, crying and screaming, says, “please! I’ll do anything!,” but is ignored by Collins.
“Turn around,” Collins tells her. “You should have showed up. I’ve already issued my order.”
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2.The Abuser in the Case Received a 16-Day Sentence
The suspect in the case, who has prior domestic violence convictions, according to WFTV, was accused of choking the victim and threatening her with a kitchen knife.
Myles Brennan, who is the father of the woman’s 1-year-old child, was sentenced to 16 days in jail for simple battery.
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3. Advocates for Domestic Violence Victims Have Blasted Collins for Her Decision
Advocates for domestic violence victims have expressed outrage over Collins decision.
“She’ll never call again. Look what happened to her. She could be lying, broken in a ditch somewhere, and she would probably not call police because of what happened to her in this place,” Jeanne Gold, the CEO of SafeHouse, a Florida organization that offers shelter to abuse victims, told WFTV. Gold called the judge’s behavior “appalling” and “horrible.”
4. Collins Was Appointed to the Bench by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005
Collins was appointed to the Seminole County Court by former Florida Governor and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, according to Ballotpedia. She has now been re-elected to the bench several times.
Collins, who earns $138,000 a year as a judge, graduated from Eastern Illinois University and Mercer University Law School. She began her career as an assistant state’s attorney in Seminole County, and then opened a private practice in Longwood, Florida, before becoming a judge.
She has received negative reviews in the past from those who have appeared before her.
“She is the worst judge in all of central Florida,” a person claiming to be a criminal defense lawyer wrote on the anonymous review site The Robing Room, in July.
Another reviewer said, “She is the worst judge I have ever appeared in front of. She is completely bias towards the state and does not try to hide it one bit. She is nasty to the attorneys and defendants that appear in front of her and has no business on the bench.”
Another comment says:
My name is Patricia Tommaso, and I am using my husband’s email address. I was in front of Judge Collins this morning. This is a very nasty person; she issued a summary judgement in a pre-trial conference, which my papers said could not happen. My husband tried to talk for me, but she told him to shut up and would have had him removed from the courtroom. My husband is a well-educated individual, and I was crying, and he was just trying to talk for me. She made fun of his medical condition (he is close to being terminal), she found that funny. She is a terrible individual in my opinion, and I will be filing a complaint with the JQC. I am a businessperson (for 30 years) in Central Florida, and I will do everything that I can do at the next election to get her voted out.
A civil litigator wrote in 2013, “I agree with Patricia and the other comments. She is capricious and has no logic to her rulings. She rules based on her emotions. She also does give a lot of legal advice from the bench, which she is not supposed to do as a judge. She is biased, and that comes out clearly.”
She has also been accused of having a bias against women. A poster named b_enright, wrote, “WOMEN PRAY THAT YOU NEVER EVER GET THIS JUDGE . SHE IS VERY DISCRIMINATORY AGAINST YOU BEFORE YOU EVER REACH HER COURT ROOM. SHE TAKES THE SIDE OF A LYING CHEATING POS THAT FILLS OUT FALSE POLICE REPORTS NO MATTER WHAT THE PROOF SHOWS SHE STILL SIDES WITH THE LIAR. WE NEED TO VOTE HER OUT!!!!!”
But some have stepped up to defend her:
I served as a volunteer mediator in the Small Claims Court in Seminole County, and had numerous opportunities to observe Judge Collins. (So I am an impartial observer, never having appeared before her as a litigant.) She is sometimes very sharp. However, it is always when attorneys try to run over pro se defendants. She will not tolerate attorneys who argue with her. The attorneys should know that they can always appeal her rulings to the Circuit Court. She always shows respect for the litigants until they show disrespect for her. She knows the law, and knows that in many instances the rules of civil procedure give the Court a great deal of leeway. Some of the pro se litigants try to argue with her. My guess is that some of the negative comments here come from people who have done that. Judge Collins will not tolerate that.
5. She Was Most Recently Re-Elected Last Year & Her Term Lasts Until 2021
Collins was re-elected to her seat in 2014, and her six year term does not end until 2021.
She was challenged by Sandra Rivera and Alex Finch.
“My reputation is one of fairness, firmness and hard working,” Collins told the Orlando Sentinel during an editorial board interview last year (watch it above). She told the editorial board she has a “positive impact on the citizens and the litigants that come before the court.”
“I’ve enjoyed my role as a judge. I enjoy the law. Most importantly, I enjoy serving my community,” Collins said.