TAMPA (FOX 13) - An alleged domestic violence victim was scolded, berated and shamed to tears by Seminole County Judge Jerri Collins, and now the judge is in hot water with the Florida Supreme Court for breaking several judicial codes of conduct.
The victim in this case told prosecutors she wasn't going to testify against her alleged abuser. When she didn't show up for the first day of the trial, Judge Jerri Collins dragged her into court anyway -- for a contempt hearing.
Judge Collins: You disobeyed a court order, knowing this was not going to end well for the state.
Victim: Your honor, I'm very sorry for not attending last Wednesday. I've been dealing with depression and a lot, personally, since this happened. My anxiety is, this is every day for me.
Judge Collins: Why didn't you show up to court?
Victim: My anxiety.
Judge Collins: You think you have anxiety now? You haven't even seen anxiety. We had a jury ready to try Mr. Brennan, who has a prior criminal history.
From the moment the victim began explaining why she didn't show up, Judge Collins seemed to be in no mood for excuses.
"I've moved out. I tried to move on with my life. I filed for child support last June," the victim added. "When he went to jail for two weeks, he lost his job. He lost everything and I'm, like, homeless now. I'm living at my parents' house. everything has been shut off."
Then the judge appeared to question her allegations of abuse.
Judge Collins: Is it true what you told the police? Is it true?
Judge Collins: Then why wouldn't you want to testify?
Afterward, things went from bad to worse.
Victim: I'm just not in a good place.
Judge Collins: And violating a court order did not do anything for you. I find you in contempt of court. I sentence you to three days in the county jail.
No amount of tears or apologies from the victim would make a difference.
Victim: Judge, I'll do anything. Please! Please! I have a 1-year-old son I tried to take care of by myself!
Judge Collins: I've already issued my order. Court is in recess.
Since then, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Judge Collins acted inappropriately and broke several judicial rules of conduct. The court decided Judge Collins will be publicly reprimanded August 30. She was also ordered to attend anger management and domestic violence classes.
"This sets us back decades in the fight to really get protection and good support for victims," offered Clara Reynolds of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
She says the turmoil of a trial often threatens other aspects of a victim's life: Childcare, finances and, yes, anxiety level.
The woman had even explained to the judge she lost her home when she left her attacker.
"The victim loses multiple times in this," continued Reynolds. "They lose their means of support, they are not supported by the system, they are made to feel as if they are the criminal in the system. It is almost like, 'Why should I go through this?'"
Defense attorney and former prosecutor of domestic violence cases in Hillsborough County Anthony Rickman says there are seldom other options when it comes to testimony in a domestic violence case.
Often, a victim is needed on the stand to prove the state's case.
"As a prosecutor and a judge it's frustrating. Domestic violence cases, 80 percent of cases go away because a victim didn't show up."