SANFORD – Seminole Judge Jerri Collins recently was publicly reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court, and ordered to take anger management classes and attend a course on how to best handle domestic violence victims in court, after a video of her severely scolding a woman in court went viral.
A video of the case found its way to a public news station in October 2015 and enraged much of the public. A formal complaint was filed the next month with the Judicial Qualification Commission (JQC), which polices judges and holds them accountable to the judicial code.
This code includes being patient and courteous, which many said Collins was not after observing her reactions in court.
The woman who was reprimanded by Collins had originally pressed charges against Myles Brennan in April 2015 for allegedly choking her, threatening her with a knife and pressing his thumbs into her eyes. Attending court on July 30, 2015, she told Collins that she had missed a hearing for the case due to her ongoing anxiety and depression. A lawyer was not present at the time to accompany or defend her.
Collins replied to the crying woman by exclaiming: “You think you’re going to have anxiety now? You haven’t seen anxiety.” Collins then had the option to either fine the woman or sentence her to community service, but instead sentenced her to three days in jail.
Without a victim to testify against him, Brennan only served 16 days for simple battery.
The JQC heard the complaint against Collins soon after the news station aired the court video. Due to the commission's limited size, it relies heavily on outside sources to bring forth questionable judicial behavior.
“This is a very small agency, the smallest one in the state –there’s only four full-time employees – to monitor all the judges in the state,” Alex Williams, assistant general counsel for the JQC, told the Florida Record. “We do a very good job, given the resources that we have, just because of the quality of the members of the commission, but we do rely on people to be our eyes and ears.”
The JQC begins the review process by evaluating the complaint’s veracity, verifying it and then making the decision whether to file formal charges. It is evaluates a judge’s adherence to the judicial code through years of previous cases.
“There’s a lot of case law regarding judges making tempered comments from the bench, unfortunately, where various judges throughout the history of the commission have made comments that were inappropriate,” Williams said. “Either they (the judges) agree that they shouldn’t have made those comments, and that’s part of the record, or they didn’t believe that those were inappropriate, and they went to trial, and the Supreme Court found that those were inappropriate comments.”
After the JQC reviewed the case, it advanced it to the Florida Supreme Court, where it was decided that Collins should take classes to better manage her anger and on how to best work with domestic violence victims.
There are still many people on the outside of the law that believe Collins’ actions require harsher consequences, like impeachment. Williams said that this would be out of JQC’s territory and would require legislative action.
“Impeachment is part of a different process for removing a judge or elected official than the commission is a part of," he said. "But, ultimately, judges, as constitutional officers, are held accountable by the electorate, the people that have to either re-elect them if they’re appointed to begin with, or elect them to the bench to begin with.”
For now, the state Supreme Court's order regarding Collins is its final order, and no other punishment will ensue.