Seminole judge who berated domestic violence victim in court may get reprimand

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — After a four-month investigation, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended a public reprimand for Seminole County Judge Jerri Collins.

A formal complaint was filed by the commission on Nov. 20 after she “berated and belittled a victim of domestic violence” during a July 30 hearing after the woman failed to respond to a subpoena to testify.

Collins sentenced the victim to three days in jail.

In its decision, the commission said Collins “admits that her discourteous conduct was inappropriate and should not have occurred.”

Documents: Judicial Qualifications Commission recommendation

Documents: Original complaint against Judge Jerri Collins

When questioning the victim during the July hearing, Collins was “aggressive and discourteous” and “badgered” the woman before finding her in contempt of court and sending her to jail, the complaint said.

The victim tried to explain to the judge why she missed the court date, but Collins was not swayed.

(From the July hearing)

Victim: I'm just, my anxiety … and I'm just.

Collins: You think you're going to have anxiety now? You haven't even seen anxiety.

Collins: You disobeyed a court order knowing that this was not going to turn out well for the state.

Victim: I'm just not in a good place right now.

Collins: Violating your court order did not do anything for you. I find you in contempt of court. I hereby sentence you to three days in the county jail.

In its final recommendation, the commission said Collins’ actions weren’t illegal, but they were inappropriate.

The judge admitted as much, the report said.

“Judge Collins has accepted responsibility for her behavior and is mindful that while her actions may have been lawful, the manner in which she carried out her judicial duties placed the judiciary in a negative light,” the report said, ending with the recommended punishment. “The Judicial Qualifications Commission finds and recommends that the interests of justice, the public welfare, and sound juridical administration are best served by a public reprimand of Judge Collins.”

The Judicial Qualifications Commission, which provides oversight for judges, said Collins violated a code to be, “patient, dignified and courteous,” and instead “berated and belittled a victim of domestic violence.”

"You go before the full Florida Supreme Court in an open court session and you have a tongue lashing which is not too pleasant,” said former chief judge and WFTV legal analyst Belvin Perry on Collins’ reprimand.

He said Collins could get a suspension, but it’s unlikely.

The ruling added, “You raised your voice and cut her off mid-sentence, using sarcasm to make your point.”

The commission also pointed out bias, stating it wasn’t Collins’ duty to decide what was good for the state, but rather to ensure a fair proceeding for everyone, including the victim.

The recommendation is not binding, though, and what Collins’ punishment will be, if any, will be decided by the Florida Supreme Court, 18th Judicial Circuit Court Chief Judge John D. Galluzzo said Thursday in a written statement.

Comments on this article