We have previously discussed the use of shaming punishments by judges around the country — a practice that I have previously denounced in columns and blog postings. I discussed a new case this week on BBC involving Edmond Aviv, 62, in South Euclid, Ohio. Aviv pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge. Aviv, 62, had been feuding with his neighbor for 15 years, particularly over the smell of her dryer vent when she did laundry. He retaliated by hookup up kerosene to a fan to blow the smell on to the property of Sandra Prugh. Municipal Court Judge Gayle Williams-Byers (left) decided to impose her own brand of justice and ordered him to demean himself in public and wear a signing reading “I AM A BULLY! I pick on children that are disabled, and I am intolerant of those that are different from myself. My actions do not reflect an appreciation for the diverse South Euclid community that I live in.” For those of us who view this type of novel or shaming punishment to be unprofessional and abusive, it is Judge Williams-Byers who is in serious need for corrective measures. Indeed, many view judges who entertain the public with shaming sentences to be the ultimate bullies.
Aviv certainly does not sound like a nice man. He was long accused of harassing his neighbors and has three prior convictions for harassing conduct. Prugh is also a highly sympathetic victim, a women who has two adult adopted children with disabilities and a paralyzed son. Prugh accused Aviv of previously spitting on her and calling her a “monkey mama.” She also said that he threw dog feces on the windshield of her son’s car and on a wheelchair ramp.
Williams-Byer ordered Aviv to serve 15 days in jail, seven months on probation and 100 hours of community service. He was also ordered to attend anger-management classes and psychological counseling. Then she decided to get “creative” with her own brand of justice.
If these allegations are true (and he does have prior convictions), the proper response is increased jail time, injunctive relief, and the possible escalation to a felony offense. These shaming punishments degrade our legal system and turn judges into little Caesars meting out their own justice to the thrill of the public. We have seen judges force people to cut their hair in their courtroom or clean their court bench with a toothbrush. These sentences make justice a form of public entertainment and allow judges to turn their courtrooms into their own macabre productions. While judges talk a good game about their effort to be creative, they clearly enjoy this role and the publicity that comes from making people demean themselves. It appeals to the lowest common denominator of our society and unfortunately there are many who enjoy to see others degraded. Indeed, some appear to be working through their own serious issues or yielding to their own emotional impulses in punishments like forcing people to cut their hair in their courtroom or wearing signs that the judge herself creates over the weekend (as discussing in prior stories). I believe this trend is a direct result of faux court programs like Judge Judy and Judge Brown (who was recently arrested himself) where people are yelled at or taunted by the court. We are losing the distinction between entertainment and the law. The result is a loss of professionalism and consistency in sentencing. I have long advocated for bar associations to move against judges like Williams-Byer and consider removal over such abusive sentencing. Little has been done. Judges bask in national coverage and develop a taste for the attention and accolades. Absent an effort by the bar, this trend will grow and our court system will increasingly add these circus like scenes for public enjoyment.
Williams-Byer is a former prosecutor who won her seat by a handful of votes in 2011. She oversees small cases involving misdemeanors but, with the publicity of this case, could well try to build on the popularity as did Judge Poe in his successful run for Congress.