Ohio Judge Sentences “Bully” To Wear Demeaning Sign In Public

bully-2-e1397330995935article-2603196-1D0E0E1500000578-133_634x819We 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.

I have previously written about the rise of shaming punishments in the United States in both blogs (here and here and here and here) and columns (here and here and here).

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.

49 thoughts on “Ohio Judge Sentences “Bully” To Wear Demeaning Sign In Public”

  1. bettykath

    Dredd, Considering the number of people in prison doing work for corporations for next to nothing in payment except “room and board”, are you sure we’re more civilized?

    ‘We have theoretically become more civilized,’

    I think ‘theoretically’ is the important term here.
    My statement “We have theoretically become more civilized, as to slavery anyway …” is in agreement with both of you.

    It is not clear that we are more civilized in many situations as you both pointed out to us.

    1. Actually I think shaming would be a pretty terrible development if it became widely used.

      But for some reason I find it much easier to argue for shaming rather against it. And that raises questions about one of my personal standards that we should let the facts and arguments lead us to our beliefs.

  2. ‘We have theoretically become more civilized,’

    I think ‘theoretically’ is the important term here. When you consider the actual conditions of incarceration, with overcrowding, violence, under staffing, inadequate medical care, then I think there is a real question whether incarceration represents an improvement at all.

    And there is another way to view shamming. Shamming seems to be a very effective technique to change behavior with negative consequences unlikely to be worse than the well documented negative consequences resulting from incarceration.

    When we consider the extremely negative consequences, to both the individual and to society, of allowing the individual to continue their antisocial behavior, it is clear that it is uncivilized not to use shamming.

    Shamming is essential for a humane, orderly society.

    The only problem with this example is that the shamming was ordered as a whim of the judge under her idiosyncratic conditions rather than as a considered judgment of the community. The only thing unfair or inappropriate here is that the defendant has been singled out and treated differently from others in similar situation. Shame them all for a better, more civilized society.

    Of course, you might take exception and disagree.

  3. Dredd, Considering the number of people in prison doing work for corporations for next to nothing in payment except “room and board”, are you sure we’re more civilized?

  4. Darren Smith

    In my opinion this is judicial misconduct…
    Darren Smith

    Thank you Mark and Dredd. I appreciate it.

    I think the law should be as you said, that this is misconduct, and as JT indicated in terms of his displeasure with it.

    That leads to the concept of “should the constitution be frozen in time” as to the meaning of “cruel and unusual” of a time when human slavery was not considered cruel?

    We have theoretically become more civilized, as to slavery anyway, so why can’t we put that into our case law and get rid of shaming?

  5. I think some of his behavior may be from not being heard. Shaming him is just more of the same. No one pays any attention to his side of the story so he takes action, sometimes over the top action.

    Perhaps if the neighbor acknowledged that the fumes from her dryer vent could be undesirable (she hears him, which helps to diffuse his anger) and then asks him for some ideas on how to fix the problem, genuinely, not sarcastically, (get his investment in solving the problem), they could have found a solution that would have worked for both of them. It’s too bad this didn’t happen 15 years ago.

    It’s possible that the neighbor didn’t make any changes b/c she didn’t know how. My dryer vent goes where my brother installed it. I’d have to get help to do something different if there were a complaint and the first person I would ask for ideas would be the complainer, after diffusing his/her anger. (The most likely first response would be uncomfortable and wouldn’t fix anything.)

  6. Judges seem to think their role modes should be Judge Judy or one of the other embarrassments to the Judicial robes they wear on TV. Signs and public shaming are medieval and have no place in our justice system.

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