Utah judge compels mom to chop off daughter's ponytail

A Utah mother has filed a complaint over a judge who told her that he would reduce her 13-year-old daughter's sentence if she chopped off the girl's ponytail in the courtroom.

A Utah mother says she felt intimidated in court when a judge told her that he would reduce her 13-year-old daughter's sentence if she chopped off the girl's ponytail in the courtroom — an offer the mother says she now wishes she hadn't taken.

Valerie Bruno, of Price in central Utah, said she has filed a formal complaint with the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission against Judge Scott Johansen. Bruno’s teenaged daughter and an 11-year-old friend were referred to juvenile court for cutting off the hair of a three-year-old girl with scissors in March and for harassing another girl in Colorado by telephone.

The juvenile offenders cut off part of the hair of a three-year-old girl, seen here. (KSL TV)

When the 13-year-old faced Johansen for a hearing in May, he sentenced her to 30 days in detention and 276 hours of community service — but he also offered to trim 150 hours of the community service if her mother cut her ponytail in his courtroom.

Bruno is now expressing regret for not consulting an attorney before taking her daughter into the courtroom.

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

The mother of the three-year-old whose hair was cut off said she approved of the sentence and even spoke up during the hearing when she felt Bruno had not cut off enough of her daughter's hair. Johansen then directed Bruno to cut the ponytail all the way "to the rubber band."

Attempts to reach Johansen were unsuccessful Sunday.

Colin Winchester, executive director of the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission, said the state constitution bars him from commenting on whether a complaint has been filed against a judge. A complaint only becomes public if disciplinary action is taken against a judge, he said.

Under state law, judges are given discretion in coming up with sanctions for youth that will change their behaviour in a positive way.

Johansen ordered the 11-year-old friend of Bruno's daughter to have her hair cut as short as his. She was allowed to go to a salon to have it done, then return to the courtroom to ensure that the new hairstyle met with the judge's approval.