SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla., Oct. 8 (UPI) -- A Florida judge is attracting criticism for the way she handled a court hearing in July in which she verbally scolded a domestic violence victim for missing a previous court date, dismissed her explanation and ordered her to jail.
Seminole County Judge Jerri L. Collins sentenced the woman to three days in jail for contempt of court for her failure to appear during her abuser's trial, WFTV-TV reported Thursday.
"You may testify as to why the court should not hold you in contempt of court for failing to appear, as summoned," Collins said at the start of the hearing. "You refused to come to court ... you had indicated [to prosecutors] that you were not going to show up, knowing that you were under subpoena."
"I can sentence you to jail," she added.
Standing before Collins, the woman attempted to explain her reasons for missing the trial.
"I am very sorry for not attending," the woman replied, as she began to cry. "I've been dealing with depression ... my anxiety is like, this is every day for me."
The woman then tried to explain that she had been trying to separate from her abuser and that she had experienced recurring distress during the trial proceedings. In trying to communicate, the visibly and audibly emotional woman had some difficulty formulating sentences.
"Why didn't you show up to court?" Collins asked.
The woman again cited anxiety when Collins interrupted with, "you think you have anxiety now? You haven't even seen anxiety."
"We had a jury -- six people there ready to try [the defendant], who has a prior criminal history of domestic violence. You were required to be here by court order. You disobeyed a court order knowing that this was not going to turn out well for the state," Collins continued.
The judge then asked the woman if her allegations against the defendant were true. When she replied it was, Collins said, "then why didn't you come to testify?"
"I have tried to move on with my life," the woman explained, still sobbing. "I'm, like, homeless now. I'm living at my parents house. Everything has been shut off. I had to sell everything I own. I'm just not in a good place right now."
Collins then ordered the woman to jail.
"Anxiety about the order did not do anything for you. I hereby find you in contempt of court. I sentence you to three days in the county jail," she said, which was met with louder sobs from the woman.
"I'll do anything, please," the woman said as the bailiffs tried to handcuff her and attorneys looked on. "I have a 1-year-old son. I'm trying to take care of him myself. I'm begging you please, please don't."
"I have already issued my order," Collins said.
Earlier in the verbal exchange, the woman said she wanted prosecutors to drop abuse charges against the defendant to preclude a criminal trial -- and, therefore, her need to appear at trial.
Collins asked her, "Why?"
Video footage of the hearing has helped spark criticism of the judge's actions, even though legal experts say she was well within the law to rule as she did and the woman could not fight the order.
"There is no recourse. Game over," legal analyst Bill Sheaffer told WFTV.
There is, however, a judicial code of conduct that says judges must be patient and courteous during court proceedings.
Without the woman's testimony, the defendant pleaded to simple battery and was sentenced to 16 days in jail.
Jeanne Gold, chief executive officer of the domestic violence prevention group SafeHouse, said she was appalled by the video.
"I can't blame the state for wanting to get a bad guy, but you cannot lean on a victim of domestic violence to solve the societal issues in our world," she told the Orlando Sentinel. "It's so unfair, and it just shows that there is a lot more education needed."
Collins has refused to comment on the case because an appeal can still be filed by the victim -- a futile exercise, legal experts say, because the woman has already served her jail sentence.
Some experts believe the punishment was excessive because the judge had the option to sentence the woman to community service, or levy a fine.
"Most judges take the position that they are not going to re-victimize the person," Orlando criminal defense attorney Richard Hornsby said.
"The judge was just all riled up about this woman not showing up instead of stepping back and thinking about the fact that this woman was a victim of domestic violence," Gold added.
Collins, a judge since 2006, was re-elected to the bench last year and will remain in her post until 2021.