Judge Ponytail Order Sparks Criticism Over 'Shame Punishments'

A Utah mother has filed a formal complaint against a juvenile court judge who told her he would reduce her daughter's sentence if she cuts off her ponytail in court.

Judge Scott Johansen had suggested that Valerie Bruno carry out the bizarre punishment to her 13 year old daughter in court at a hearing on May 28.

Bruno's 13 year old daughter and her 11 year old friend were referred to the 7th District Juvenile Court for cutting off the hair of a 3 year old in March and harassing another girl by telephone.

The 13 year old was ordered to serve 30 days in detention and perform 276 hours of community service before Judge Johansen offered to reduce the community sentence by 150 hours if Bruno cuts off her daughter's hair in court. Apparently, Bruno had taken up on the offer but now regrets the decision, saying she wishes she had consulted a lawyer before entering the courtroom.

She told Deseret News that she had felt very intimidated. "I guess I should have went into the courtroom knowing my rights because I felt very intimidated... An eye for an eye, that's not how you teach kids right from wrong."

"Shame Punishments" such as the ponytail case have become increasingly popular in U.S. courts. Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University, said: "This is part of a disturbing trend that has developed in the last 20 years. These are punishments that often appeal to the public and bring a type of instant gratification for the court."

The judge's eye-for-eye punishment has been largely criticized.

Speaking about the 13 year old's case, Turley said: "I fail to see how the court reducing itself to the level of a 13 year old teaches a moral let alone legal lesson. The court was doing precisely what the 13 year old did to a child."