Extreme Judicial Makeover: Utah Judge Orders Mother To Cut Off 13-Year-Old Girl’s Ponytail Or Accept Longer Detention

I have previously and repeatedly written against the use of shaming and novel sentencing by judges around the country (here and here and here). Judges often thrill the public by imposing their own forms of justices — departing from conventional criminal sentences to force people to clean courtroom with toothbrushes, wear demeaning placards, or carry out publicly humiliating tasks. Now, Utah District Juvenile Judge Scott Johansen has joined this circus of judicial Caesars after giving a mother the choice to cut off his daughter’s ponytail in front of him or accept a longer sentence. The mother, Valerie Bruno, relented and cut off Kaytlen Lopan, 13,in the courtroom.


The minor was found to have cut the hair of a toddler in a restaurant. Johansen gave Valerie Bruno a pair of scissors in the courtroom and a choice: either cut off her daughter Kaytlen’s hair or have the teen spend an extra 150 hours in detention. The judge then watched the reluctant mother grab her daughter and instructed “take it off clear up to the rubber band.”

The mother of the 3-year-old victim loved the decision, insisting that her daughter’s hair had never been cut and was once down to her back but was cut short by the teen. The teen had spoken to the girl with an 11-year-old friend at a McDonald’s and went to buy scissors to do the act.

The mother rejects that she relented but said that she felt intimated by the judge. Bruno has now filed a complaint against the judge.

None of this excuses the act of the teen, who appears to have had other disciplinary problems. However, I do not see how the judge acting like a thoughtless 13-year-old child teaches this girl a moral lesson.

Source: Deseret News

49 thoughts on “Extreme Judicial Makeover: Utah Judge Orders Mother To Cut Off 13-Year-Old Girl’s Ponytail Or Accept Longer Detention

  1. This is inane. And cruel. And the mother of the three-year-old who “loved” the decision exacting an infantile “eye for an eye” also ought to feel ashamed, once overheated feelings cool.

  2. This judge is a moral pigmy in terms of having any understanding of the complex relationship girls have with their hair. He may very well have done far more damage to her psychologically than to her pony tail. A smart judge would have ordered her to get counseling and some community service in a related area. What the girl did to the child is inexcusable, but does not in any way justify what the judge did.

    I remember reading about a municipal judge who had both a sense of humor as well as sense of appropriate justice. When defendants were brought before him for having loud ‘boom box’ car stereos, he held the cases until he had a group of several defendants. On a day when there was no court, the defendants had to assemble in his courtroom and listen to a full day of music of his selection. The judge was an amateur jazz saxophonist and he included several of his own recorded tunes. The miscreants with loud car speakers were compelled to listen to an all day long concert of jazz, classical music, bagpipes, Indian, Asian and Native American music. Sounds about right to me (pun intended).

  3. And this is what happens in an overly entitled society. The mother of the 3 yr old felt entitled to revenge, the judge felt entitled to dictatorial authority, just as Americans feel entitled to their pettiness. Disgusting.

  4. Not surprised that it is in religious Utah. It reminds me of the colonial days when people were mocked in the public square.

  5. I personally don’t find anything wrong with the judge’s decision, provided that the 13YO’s motives were not good when she cut the hair off of the 3YO. It isn’t as though he had her flogged or anything.

    As the parent of 3 kids (2 girls), I cannot imagine having a 3YO with long hair. It snarls and it is really painful for the kids to have combed out! Yikes! As soon as my kids’ hair gets long enough to start tangling, I, myself, get out the scissors. Parents

    While I do understand that a 13YO’s brain is not fully developed, any reasonably developed 13YO will understand that it is morally wrong to cut another child’s hair for self-entertainment. This 13YO freely chose to engage in this act. The loss of the ponytail will be a long-term reminder to the girl not to interfere with other people’s bodily integrity.

    That being said, on the off-chance that the 13YO had done it so as to save the poor 3YO the pain of having her hair yanked on a daily basis while combing snarls out, the 13YO should have been given a medal, instead.

  6. Well I was ready to jump on the band wagon and blah blah blah till I read this:

    >>Her daughter 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.

    At a May 28 hearing, Johansen ordered Bruno’s daughter to serve 30 days in detention and to perform 276 hours of community service. But the judge offered to take 150 hours of community service off the sentence if Bruno cut her daughter’s ponytail in his courtroom.<< (via hyper- link)

    If this child was not 13, if she were younger or older, I mayt disagree. But when Solomon said split the baby…..well this was the mother that said ok,..

  7. Utah. Five Wives vodka the morning of sentencing. A better sentence would be to put the 13 year old to work cleaning up the roadside with a chaingang for one day.

  8. This judge was into shaming, not punishment. The mom of the 3year old was looking for revenge and maybe something to deal with her own guilt.

    How did the two girls get access to the 3 year old long enough to cut her hair. Long enough to decide to do it, to go shopping for scissors, and then to cut the hair. WHERE WAS THE CHILD’S MOTHER.?

  9. “giving a mother the choice to cut off his daughter’s ponytail” & “felt intimated by the judge”?

  10. “How did the two girls get access to the 3 year old long enough to cut her hair. Long enough to decide to do it, to go shopping for scissors, and then to cut the hair. WHERE WAS THE CHILD’S MOTHER.?”

    Bettykath,

    The money shot question. Having raised two daughters and having three young grandchildren I’m at a loss to explain how this happened in the sense of the 13 year old’s access to the child. A stupid decision, I think made with little serious thought given to the case before the Judge.

  11. After acquiring the scissors, they returned to McDonald’s, where they both took a turn … cutting some of the little girl’s hair off the back of her head,” Price police officer Robb Radley wrote in his report.

    At a May 28 hearing, Lopan entered admissions in the assault case, as well as another case stemming from eight months of phone calls she made to another teen in Colorado that included threats of rape and mutilation, according to an audio recording of the hearing provided to the Deseret News by Bruno.

    I agree that this judge erred. This girl should’ve been sent straight to jail. No counseling, like that could work, and no community service.

  12. I had to deal with an assistant city attorney a few times. Maybe half a dozen. I lost count. She was supposed to show up for circuit court four times, but she only showed up twice. Sometimes pony tail, sometimes not. Brunette. Don’t try it.

  13. I can see both sides of this story. The old “eye for an eye” version of justice and the ‘judge should be above this’ side.

    At 13, I would hope that every time she looked in the mirror, she would regret what she did and think twice about picking up another pair of scissors to cut someone’s hair. I would suggest the possibility that this punishment might actually have a better effect than 15 hours of detention. The possibility of detention exacerbating the teen’s disciplinary issues in a negative way seems probable.

    The bigger question is: where was the toddler’s mother when all of this was occurring?

  14. Reminds me of the practice during the 19th century of mobs cutting off the long braids Chinese immigrants had as a form of intimidation or degradation. Probably it would be best for the courts to avoid such punishments and stick to the punishments the law provides for.

  15. If the 13 year old’s mother would spend less time defending her daughter and more time disciplining her daughter, maybe the daughter wouldn’t be acting out. Having your hair cut is a small consequence – she needed to understand why this was hurtful to the other family.

    I also agree that it seems the 3 year old was at mcdonalds a long time AND not very supervised. Maybe they were in the playground area?

    I support the judge and think there should have been even more to the punishment to get through to this young lady.

  16. “[P]unishment is not inflicted for the purpose of retaliation, but solely for the protection of the public.” Florida v. Shotkin, 149 So.2d 574 (Fla. 3d DCA 1963). Judges who prefer the equivalent of placing a defendant in the stocks in the town square need to take another look at the purpose of sentencing.

  17. ““[P]unishment is not inflicted for the purpose of retaliation, but solely for the protection of the public.” Florida v. Shotkin, 149 So.2d 574 (Fla. 3d DCA 1963). Judges who prefer the equivalent of placing a defendant in the stocks in the town square need to take another look at the purpose of sentencing.”

    But it can’t be just this.

    1. The public has little to fear from this kid, or most kids, and still we sentence them when this statement would indicate a stern talking to might be enough.

    2. At some level, mom and judge both agreed this was a lesser punishment than 300 community service hours and still we’d all be okay if this little monster had served her 300 hours.

    3. According to this statement there is no reason for her to serve 300 hours, much less 30 hours or 3 hours.

    I say this was an apt, if sexist, punishment.

    Kids are juvenile immature forms of life. They are not fully myelinated. They probably don’t understand incentives and punishments in the same way you do.

    Sometimes kids need a real authority figure to lay the law down. We teach them so much evasiveness which really just comes across as passive aggressive bullshit.

    300 hours or a ponytail cut off?

    Well, when my dog gnaws on my dashboard, I don’t subject it to 300 hours of community service, I immediately tell it “No” in a deep firm voice (Note: I don’t really have a dog).

    Counseling will probably be laughed at same as community service.

    What the kid needed was the judge giving her the option to cut her hair short or deal with the community service, probably at a kid’s cancer ward.

    This was sexist, because we know if this had been a male child, the commentariat at this blog would have been demanding prison time.

  18. At 13 the girl probably thinks the punishment was unjust. THAT is what will stay with her, not what she did. Cutting her hair shamed her. The 3 year old is more likely to take it stride, unlike her mother. Unless, of course, her mother repeatedly tell her or others in her hearing how she was “ruined” by the haircut.

    I find that teaching kids to not pinch by pinching them back, or hitting them because they hit a sibling, doesn’t work nearly as well as invoking compassion.

    300 hours of detention. What does that mean? Juvenile detention as in incarceration? That’s 12.5 days. I think the 150 hours might be enough to teach her a lesson.

  19. Community service can actually be very effective if properly monitored. It can teach responsibility, sharing, teamwork and compassion, traits that are usually lacking in kids who get in legal troubles.

  20. Actually, I convoluted the phone calls and the hair cut. The detention time was more for the phone calls.

    The hair cut should have been resolved with a lecture to the 3 year old’s mother as well as the 13 year old.

    The detention should have been considered for the phone bullying. And why was that allowed to go on for 8 months?

  21. At 13 the girl probably thinks the punishment was unjust. THAT is what will stay with her, not what she did. Cutting her hair shamed her. The 3 year old is more likely to take it stride, unlike her mother. Unless, of course, her mother repeatedly tell her or others in her hearing how she was “ruined” by the haircut.

    I find that teaching kids to not pinch by pinching them back, or hitting them because they hit a sibling, doesn’t work nearly as well as invoking compassion.

    300 hours of detention. What does that mean? Juvenile detention as in incarceration? That’s 12.5 days. I think the 150 hours might be enough to teach her a lesson.

    Still finding it odd that somehow shame is now a bad thing as far as punishment goes.

    Goodbye sitting in the corner at school, goodbye billboards with sex offenders, or “deadbeats”. Goodbye any negative connotation of pleading guilty. Goodbye announcing corporate tax abusers.

    I think we’re not supposed to shame girls because of … they are girls. Or something. Cutting her hair is probably seem to be like calling her a slut.

    Giving her anything other than a medal is probably a form of shaming.

    What you did dearie wasn’t really bad. If it was really bad, you’d be punished. Instead we want you to sweep a hospital and most likely be given some award and some punch and cookies at then end of your “service”.

    Would we be so worried about shaming a male?

    If you act like a jackass you are supposed to feel ashamed.

  22. “Community service can actually be very effective if properly monitored. It can teach responsibility, sharing, teamwork and compassion, traits that are usually lacking in kids who get in legal troubles”

    I will take your word on that Mike, and am happy to know that’s the case.

  23. anon, “If you act like a jackass you are supposed to feel ashamed.”

    There is a difference between feeling ashamed and being shamed.

    Feeling ashamed is a you understand you have done something wrong and you are truly sorry for it.

    Being shamed is when others attack who you are, your essence. For a 13 year old girl, cutting her hair in this manner is shaming, attacking her essence.

    I don’t know enough about the girl to suggest what is appropriate to get her to the point where she feels ashamed of what she did. Shaming her won’t do it.

    From the phone calls she made, she clearly needs to learn about boundaries.

  24. Let’s try that one sentence again.

    Feeling ashamed is when you understand that you have done something wrong and you are truly sorry for it.

  25. “Let’s try that one sentence again.

    Feeling ashamed is when you understand that you have done something wrong and you are truly sorry for it.”

    Sure, and I could be very wrong about this, but I am not sure it is an emotion/feeling that isn’t taught, and taught socially.

    So if Mom and Dad haven’t taught this girl how to feel ashamed, or know not to assault 3 year olds, it’s just not clear to me that that means society has no role in teaching her that. I honestly think it might cripple her and that perhaps the judge by shaming her is teaching her appropriately.

    This isn’t stocks, bilboes, pillory, brank, ducking-stool or jougs, http://historyreadings.com/ne/punish/002.html this is in loco parentis of a girl that not only assaults a 3 year old but has a past history of abusive phone calls that included threats of rape and humiliation.

    Like I said, sometimes what kids need (and adults too), is a good firm, undeniable, “No” and the message they did wrong.

  26. “For a 13 year old girl, cutting her hair in this manner is shaming, attacking her essence.”

    I’ve heard this quite frequently recently, not about girls, but about teenagers in general, usually dealing with why adults can’t get some teenager to do X or otherwise punish them.

    I’m not sure I understand it.

    It often involves behaviors that would be unacceptable and corrected in an pre-adolescent. And unacceptable (and perhaps even jailable) in a twenty year old.

    I’m not clear about this, but I think it mainly comes down to willingness to use force and probably just as wrong to do to the younger kids except we know we’re bigger and can use force on them.

    And I honestly don’t know what the answer is, but temporary shaming seems a good alternative to that age group then force.

  27. Anon, I think the idea is help children feel compassion. It has to start when they are very young and continue. Getting them to imagine themselves being wronged. They don’t have to actually BE wronged, they just need to imagine how they would feel. And then help them to transfer that feeling to those they’ve hurt so they understand.

    “Ouch, that pinch really hurt me. It hurt me so much I might cry.” Pinching starts around two, I think. It’s a good place to start. And it will require repetition.

    “I know how much time you spend getting your hair to look to look so nice. How would you feel if someone cut your hair like you did that little girl? What you did was serious and it hurt her. I want you to think about it. In the meantime, you’re grounded for a week. That means you come right home after school and do your homework. No TV, no texting, no phone, no computer. You’ll have lots of time on your hands so you can help me with more chores around the house. You can start by setting the table for dinner. After dinner you can pick up your room.”

    At the end of the week, or maybe sooner, there is another discussion about how she feels about what she did.

    Other chores for a 13 year old – helping with the laundry, vacuuming, dusting, keeping her own room picked up, helping to fix meals, taking out the trash, weeding the flower garden, cutting flowers and arranging as a centerpiece, cleaning out the refrigerator, etc. Also have a supply of good books for a 13 year old. The school or the library can help with that.

  28. bettykath, I almost entirely agree, but I also think the crux of it is here:

    “What you did was serious and it hurt her. I want you to think about it. In the meantime, you’re grounded for a week. That means you come right home after school and do your homework. No TV, no texting, no phone, no computer. You’ll have lots of time on your hands so you can help me with more chores around the house. You can start by setting the table for dinner. After dinner you can pick up your room.””

    This sounds like punishment to me, more than “community service” does.

    If the judge had made the mother agree to that, I believe the mother would have responded “Why should I be punished too?”

    Granted, apart from Lohan and a few other celebs, I truly have no idea what happens in community service.

    But I think the active part here is telling the teen their behavior was wrong, asking the teen to empathize, and then punishing the teen and giving them time to think about it.

    By the way, how long does 300 hours of community service take for a teenager? I suspect it’s going to be met with resentment and trying to get out of it, or perhaps worse, as a new place to hang out and socialize. I think 300 hours of it is mainly yet another passive aggressive way we (almost literally) enslave our population and tell them the government is master.

  29. Professor, it does NOT teach the child a moral lesson. It teaches the child a PRACTICAL lesson: Don’t end up in court, for any reason on earth, ever, because once you’re in court, nothing is safe. This is perhaps a good lesson for this girl to learn. In a sense, I wish I had learned that at age 13.

  30. New Zealand woman pleads guilty to false rape accusations, sentenced to 80 hours community service.

    From which we can estimate:

    Cutting 3 year old’s ponytail is about 4 times worse than making a false rape accusation.

    Cutting a 13 year old’s ponytail is about twice as bad as making a false rape accusations.

    #misandry

  31. Malisha,
    “If the judge had made the mother agree to that, I believe the mother would have responded ‘Why should I be punished too?'”

    And there we have the crux of the problem. Mom should have taken this action at the get-go as part of her job of being Mom.

  32. oops. I’m responding to anon, not Malisha.

    I’ve had a hard time typing what I mean with wrong words jumping in. Now I’m not even reading correctly. Time to go eat worms or something.

  33. Don’t eat any worms, Bettykath — I was just trying to figure out what you meant and I began to think, “Huh? Have I lost it or what?” I was trying to figure out how I misled you!

    I think it’s hilarious that it was Anon rather than ME! He’s off on the misandry thing again — well, now that you mention HAIR — oops, a bad mother and then a bad woman and then…

    A pediatrician, Richard Todhunder, MD, back in the early 1980s, was testifying in a deposition in Maryland about why his ex-wife was a bad mother and he should therefore get custody of their son even though she was the stay-home mom and he had always been at work in his pediatrics practice while she raised the boy. He testified that there were three main things that made her a bad mother and therefore, by default, made him the “psychological parent”: (a) His son was wearing a torn sweatshirt once on a visit; (b) his son had climbed a tree and fallen out, breaking his arm, while he was with his mother; and (c) his son arrived at his house with a bad haircut.

    The case settled without trial; the mother let him have custody rather than continue the battle. Then the second wife took over raising the boy, together with her (and Todhunter’s) younger child. THEN the second wife divorced Todhunter and guess what? He left the older boy, who was not the second wife’s son, WITH the second wife, but didn’t return custody to the first wife. So the second wife ended up bringing up her and the first wife’s sons. And he wrote a boo-hoo letter to the boy (available in the file for all to see) saying he wouldn’t visit because it would hurt both of them too much.

    Well, hair has a lot to do with how bad some of these mothers can be.

  34. The judge did exactly the right thing! If it was my child I’d do the same, but I never had to because my children wouldn’t have done such a thing!

  35. He only gave the mother an option.It was not a sentence.So that is where I see it is different.She had the choice to have her daughter take the punishment handed down to her outright.It was her choice to take the deal.Kids are different nowadays.I know my parents said that of my generation but it is true.Kids kill all the time now.It might very well be their environment ,upbringing or a host of other things.I just know that it did not kill me when I got the belt/paddle from my dad or the principle but it DID make me think twice about doing it again.Now kids buck up and taunt teachers and principles telling them to f off…what are you going to do about it.Just call my parents” Then when the parents are called the suddenly turn two years old .”Mommy,they were mean to me(sniffle/sob).I just don’t understaaaaand.”Then they get suspended and get a bunch of zanax out of their parents stuff and brag to their friends how bad they are and how buzzed they are.Then when the other kids (if they went to school that day)get home they sit around and play their video games and listen to their music,talk on the phone and play on the computer.The parents don’t take away privileges because the wussy parents think they have been punished enough by missing school.I know this first hand from my daughters friends.There are far more serious issues with kids than the offer for a lighter sentence for a haircut.I have a feeling without intervention she will be begging for this later in life.See if she is offered that choice at 18 when she commits another crime!Oh,And most parents make a big deal out of a child “first haircut”.Could you imagine???I mean I still have my twenty-one year olds first haircut locks!

  36. I see an escalation in this young lady, from threats to acts. We as parents tend to treat our kids more as friends than children. Treating them more as adults without giving them the time and guidance needed. Cellphones and computers provide them with unlimited access to things and information unheard of just two generations ago. I may be from the old school of thought but i can’t imagine what a 13 yr old needs with a cellphone or computers beyond school work. Maybe having the 13 yr old spending 150hrs of service at the 3yr olds mothers house might have been more appropriate (I know it worked for me).

  37. Finally we have a judge that believes in the “eye for an eye” I believe he handled this situation correctly…. This girl has issues right along with her mother. Kids don’t learn from their mistakes by community service or spending time in Juvenile Justice system… They learn when the same thing happens to them… Well done Judge!!!!!! This mother was given an option to cut her daughters hair. She didn’t have to do it… That was her choice. Maybe next time the 13 year-old trouble maker will think twice before going out and causing problems with other kids. EYE FOR AN EYE!!! Finally, we are seeing justice. BTW. We can all cut down costs we the justice system did this in every case.

  38. I am the Aunt of the 3 year old girl whose hair was cut. For the record, the child was in the McDonalds playland supervised by her grandfather who was sitting in the dining area of the playland. Was he following her through all the tunnels and going to the very top where the incident occurred? No, he wasn’t. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I saw parents or grandparents doing that. Also, the mother DID NOT ask the judge for the punishment of cutting the hair, were we happy when that was what he offered, absolutely. If you listen to the court audio, you hear Bruno agree, and when she took the initial cut, she took 1 inch of her hair. When the judge asked if she was satisfied, of course she was going to say “no”. She didn’t follow what the judge asked of her, and still didn’t the 2nd time she cut at her hair. Listening to all the charges of harassment on top of the assault while sitting in court I was astounded. We were a little shocked to learn that Bruno contacted the news. Now the whole world knows what her daughter has been up to, judging her- what the judge did was minimal compared to what her mother is doing by dragging this story into the public eye. 95% of the people who read this story side with the judge and the victims, is it more shameful for her to have her hair cut, or all her dirty laundry aired for the whole world to judge. No one feels sorry for a bully.

  39. Teenager? Young adult? crying for mom having been arrested for shoplifting.

    (somewhat sad and difficult to watch video, not a great day for anyone. Also a few cusswords.)

  40. Call her what she is, a “BULLY” Stop all the poor minor crap. Think about the 3 year olds rights. This was assault, plain and simple.
    I get so tired of this phsycobabble stuff. I bet she will be ashamed of what she did or at least not likely to repeat the offense or worse.
    Hooray for the judge, we need more like him.

  41. I think the Professor and commenters have all missed something that to me is one of the most disturbing elements of what this judge did: coercing the parent into acting as the instrument of the court’s punishment. This is wrong at many levels. One, it humiliated the parent in front of the child. This undermines respect for the parent and will reduce her authority in the child’s eyes in the future.

    Second, a parent is supposed to be a child’s protector against the world, or at least a comforter when society must inflict a just punishment. We expect parents to weep if their child is sentenced to jail. We don’t expect them to snap on the handcuffs and escort their offspring to prison. It’s a betrayal of the natural loyalties of family bonds. I suspect this girl won’t forget that the hand moved against her in court was her mother’s.

    Nor should we underestimate how cruel this was to the mother.
    Certainly the punishment of hair-cutting doesn’t approach the evil of the Nazi death camps. But the story put me in mind of Sophie’s Choice, the William Styron novel where the title character is given an impossible dilemma by a sadistic German officer: you can save one of your two children from execution, but you have to choose which one. And by the act of choosing, she is forced to become a collaborator in the murder of her other child – and to assume a burden of guilt that never leaves her. This judge could not have cut the 13-year-old’s hair himself without risking an assault charge, or at least a judicial misconduct complaint. But he found a way to make the mother do it: either you assault your child, or I will make her suffer worse.

    This judge probably thinks he did something Solomonic. Well, the punishment may have been appropriate – hair for hair, so to speak. But in seizing on the mother to carry it out – well, that was demonic.

  42. Once I read a passage written by a very wise judge. He said: “The Solomonic solution is one that should be threatened but never carried out.”

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