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Cut off teen's ponytail, judge orders mom -- to kudos from public

June 25, 2012|By Rene Lynch

A Utah judge is under fire for embracing the whole "eye for an eye" thing: He offered to reduce a 13-year-old girl's sentence -- if her mother agreed to chop off the girl's ponytail.

The mother -- Valerie Bruno, of Price, Utah --  told the Deseret News that she's filed a formal complaint against 7th District Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen. She says the judge intimidated her into agreeing to the unusual punishment.

But if the court of public opinion is any indication, many are applauding the judge's unorthodox measures, which come as more jurists increasingly turn to such "shame" punishments to teach culprits a lesson.

Here's what the Deseret News says happened:

Price's daughter ended up in Johansen's court for two incidents. In the first, the 13-year-old and an 11-year-old friend were playing with a 3-year-old girl at a  McDonald's restaurant in Price in March when they used a pair of scissors to cut off several locks of the toddler's long, curly hair. The girls first tried to borrow scissors from the restaurant staff, and then went across the street to a store and purchased a pair, the Deseret News said.

In the second incident, the 13-year-old was accused of using the telephone to harass a girl in Colorado over the course of eight months, including threatening her with rape and mutilation, according to the Deseret News.

Johansen ordered the 13-year-old to serve 30 days in detention and to perform 276 hours of community service. However, the judge offered to lop 150 hours of community service off the sentence if the girl's mother lopped off the girl's ponytail in court during last month's hearing.

"Me, cut her hair?" Bruno asked, according to the Deseret News.

"Right now," the judge responded. "I'll go get a pair of scissors and we'll whack that ponytail off."

Bruno agreed, using a pair of scissors to cut off the ponytail. But now, Bruno says, she regrets it.

"I felt very intimidated," she told the Deseret News. "An eye for an eye, that's not how you teach kids right from wrong."

Actually, many people believe the "eye for an eye" method works just fine.

Mindy Moss, the mother of the 3-year-old whose hair was cut off, told the Deseret News that she supported the sentence. And the overwhelming number of comments posted at news outlets carrying the story indicate similar support. Here's a sampling:

--"Just another bully getting sympathy from their parent when it's time to face the consequences for their actions. Had it been my kid, I wouldn't have needed a judge to tell me to chop my kids hair to teach them a lesson, I would have done that on my own long before appearing in a court room!" read one comment at Yahoo News.

--"I love the judge, great call. We need more judges like him in this country. What has happened to disciplining children?" read one comment at the Salt Lake Tribune

--"The principle of 'an eye for an eye' can be great teaching principle to people, if not taken to extremes (which in this case it wasn't). It helps perpetrators understand the feelings and emotions they forced upon their victims, which is then usually an additional deterrent to them not doing something similar again," said a comment at the Deseret News.

Not everyone agrees with so-called shame punishments.

“This is part of a disturbing trend that has developed in the last 20 years,” Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University, told the Associated Press. “These are punishments that often appeal to the public and bring a type of instant gratification for the court.”

Efforts to reach the judge for comment have been unsuccessful, according to the AP. The 11-year-old friend also had her hair lopped off -- but she was allowed to go to a salon. The judge ordered her to return to the courtroom to prove that her hair had been cut as short as his.

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Join Rene Lynch on Google+ or Twitter. Email:rene.lynch@latimes.com.


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