Judges have a tough job. Even before entering the courtroom, these defenders of justice face many years of education and training. When presiding over cases, they’re responsible for assessing the evidence and interpreting the law, all the while maintaining complete impartiality.
In most cases, judges serve justice fairly, accurately, and in keeping with the law of the land, carefully applying sentences that fit the crime. However, in using their own discretion and common sense, they occasionally devise creative ways of punishing offenders. The following are just some of the bizarre sentences passed down by judges. While many of these unconventional decisions were met with overwhelming praise, others received a somewhat unfavorable response in the court of public opinion.
10 Bad Landlords
An Ohio landlord was instructed to live in one of his own run-down housing units after failing to resolve a number of building code violations. Nicholas Dionisopoulos owned dozens of properties in Cleveland. In March 2008, as part of a probation order, the property owner was instructed to fix up his housing units. He was also blocked from buying or selling any additional buildings without the court’s consent.
Much to Dionisopoulos’s disappointment, the judge found that he had failed to adhere to the demands. As a result, he was slapped with a $100,000 fine and placed under house arrest in one of his own crumbling properties. His tenants’ rent money was also handed over to the courts to establish a repair fund. The judge assigned a security team to track Dionisopoulos’s whereabouts. He would leave the premises only to attend church and perform repairs on his other properties.
The landlord’s woes did not end there. In 2012, he faced his old nemesis—the Cleveland Housing Court. Dionisopoulos was accused of a slew of new code violations and of breaking his five-year probation order.
A similar story emerged in the late 1990s, when Judge JoAnn Friia sentenced a landlord to spend time slumming it in her own icy, under-heated properties. The White Plains City Court judge heard that Florence Nyemitei had left almost two dozen renters in freezing conditions, with no heating or hot water, on two cold winter nights. In addition, some of the properties were left with outstanding repairs and limited electricity. On one occasion, the electric company turned off the power after Nyemitei had failed to pay her bill. Canny residents were forced to improvise, weaving Christmas lights through the dark-lit corridors to improve visibility.
As a result, the wayward landlady was told to cough up a $10,000 fine and spend four nights per week, over the course of 60 days, in one of her frosty New York apartments. The septuagenarian’s remorseless response was telling: “It’s not fair to put me in prison at this time of my life.”
9 Ten Years Of Church
A 17-year-old boy from Oklahoma was charged with first-degree manslaughter following a car crash that killed his passenger. In 2011, Tyler Alred crashed his car into a tree while driving under the influence of alcohol. Alred’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) fell short of the 0.08 limit. However, according to Oklahoma law, the BAC legal limit applies to adults over the age of 21. As a result, Alred was charged with DUI manslaughter.
As part of a deferred sentence, Judge Mike Norman ordained that Alred should attend church for ten years. The judge also stipulated that Alred must graduate high school, finish up his welding course, participate in victim impact panels, and take alcohol, drug, and nicotine tests for the first year of his sentence.
Although families of both the driver and passenger agreed with the sentencing, the American Civil Liberties Union took exception, claiming the decision represented a violation of the First Amendment and that Alred’s choice was not entirely voluntary. The defense attorney, while admitting the sentence was a tad unorthodox, did not challenge the judge’s decision.
8 The Book Report
Otis Mobley Jr. attempted to rob an undercover Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent in a restaurant parking lot in Northern California. In 2012, the Richmond man and his two accomplices met the agent on the pretense that they were selling a grenade launcher for $1,000. Unbeknownst to the authorities, the trio were planning to steal the money. The blundering crooks, one of whom was shot during the botched robbery, were arrested on-site.
Mobley and his crew were accused of assault, robbery, and conspiracy. Federal Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers suggested that Mobley be released on bond in the run-up to his trial. However, one very unusual condition was proposed: that he writes book reports. The judge said Mobley would have to dust down his old tomes—no doubt Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, mixed in with a spot of War and Peace—and read for an hour each day. Wielding nothing but his favorite quill and urbane demeanor, young Mobley would then have to take 30 minutes out of his day to a write book report.
The felon has a long rap sheet and poor court attendance record. Mobley also confessed to killing a man in self-defense in 2009 when a drug deal went wrong. Prosecutors accepted Mobley’s version of events and decided not to charge him with homicide.
Based upon the man’s criminal history, the Ninth District Court of Appeals overturned Judge Gonzalez Rogers’s decision. It was thought Mobley represented a threat to the community and, therefore, should remain in custody. Mobley was eventually sentenced to nine and a half years in prison.
Mobley’s case is not entirely unique. In 2012, South Carolina resident Cassandra Belle Tolley was incarcerated for plowing her vehicle into another car while under the influence of alcohol. As part of her sentence, Tolley agreed to read the Book of Job and compile a book report.
Meanwhile, a convicted drug dealer was told to pen a 5,000-word essay on the perils of marijuana. The British man, Terry Bennett, was found to be in possession of 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of the psychotropic drug. Plagued with a long-standing shoulder injury, Bennett could not partake in community service work. As an alternative, he was slapped with a curfew for four months and told to write an anti-marijuana essay.
In 2017, two 19-year-olds were tasked with writing a five-page book report for accidentally shooting a man. The pair were using the gun for target practice when one of the projectiles hit a neighbor who was busy mowing his lawn. In addition to the report, the pair were given short prison sentences and ordered to complete 200 hours of community service.
7 No Harm, No Fowl
The chickens came home to roost for a group of Ohio men charged with soliciting sex from an undercover cop. Painesville judge Michael Cicconetti, a man well-known for his creative sentences, said the offenders would avoid jail time if they agreed to a form of public shaming. While waving a sign that read, “No Chicken Ranch in Painesville,” the three would take turns donning a chicken costume. The ritual humiliation lasted three hours.
The sign’s message referred to the Chicken Ranch brothel in Nevada, which was founded by Walter Plankinton in the 1970s. Due to altercations with local officials and an internecine “brothel war,” the establishment was relocated outside the confines of Nye County’s Pahrump. In doing so, Plankinton was able to circumvent the town’s prostitution laws. The Nevada brothel was inspired by the original Chicken Ranch of La Grange, Texas, which opened its doors in 1844.
This is not the first time Judge Cicconetti has made offenders play dress-up for misdemeanor crimes. In 2006, Robert Clark shot and killed his Great Dane. Judge Cicconetti agreed to reduce Clark’s jail time. In exchange, the dog-killer would dress up as a “Safety Pup” mascot and visit elementary school children (supervised, obviously). In another case, the judge learned of Steven Thompson’s expletive-laden rant, during which he called a police officer a pig. In punishing Thompson’s unseemly conduct, the judge forced him to spend some quality time with a 160-kilogram (350 lb) Duroc sow. As his daughter looked on, the foul-mouthed felon posed with the pig and held a sign that read, “This is not a police officer.” The authorities also forced Thompson to apologize to the officers.
6 The Hysterical Judge
A New York judge was clearly “going through some stuff” when he decided to arrest almost everyone in his courtroom. In 2005, Judge Robert Restaino was presiding over a number of domestic abuse cases at Niagara Falls City Court. The not-so-dulcet tones of a mobile phone interrupted proceedings, triggering something deep within the judge’s troubled mind. “Every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now,” stated an unrestrained Restaino. Courtroom officers hunted for the offending device, to no avail. “If anybody believes I’m kidding, ask some of the folks that have been here for a while. You are all going.”
And they did go to jail. Nobody came forward.
“This ain’t right,” argued one of the defendants. “You’re right, it ain’t right. It ain’t right at all,” replied the judge.
All of the people arrested in the courtroom were defendants who had previously committed domestic violence. They were participating in a program that provided counseling and monitored them for alcohol and substance abuse, weekly. Those who complied with the program were allowed to remain free—or so they thought.
In the end, a courtroom of 46 people were taken into custody and herded into jail cells. When 14 of the ill-fated defendants could not conjure up the bail money, they were transported to Niagara County Jail. That same day, the media caught wind of the situation, prompting Restaino to order the defendants’ release.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct weighed in on the incident, comparing the judge’s actions to that of a “petty tyrant.” Restaino said the incident was the result of problems with his personal life. Ultimately, however, he was removed from the bench.
Judge Restaino’s unprecedented conduct just goes to show that judges, like everybody else, have bad days. Judge Daniel Rozak, another stickler for the rules, had a hissy fit when one of his own courtroom spectators showed disrespect. Chicago man Clifton Williams was watching a hearing at Will County Courthouse, in which his cousin was pleading guilty to drug charges. As Judge Rozak delivered Jason Mayfield’s sentence, Williams let out a loud yawn. The disgruntled Illinois judge sentenced Williams to six months in jail for criminal contempt. In justifying his actions, Judge Rozak argued that Williams’s exaggerated yawn had disrupted court proceedings.
So, in a strange reversal of fortunes, Williams was sent to prison while his cousin was released on probation. The judge’s strict approach stunned Williams’s father: “I was flabbergasted because I didn’t realize a judge could do that.”
5 Manilow, Mitchell, And Barney The Dinosaur
A judge in Fort Lupton, Colorado, has devised a unique way of reforming persistent noise polluters. Witnessing repeat offenders return to court, time and time again, Judge Paul Sacco realized that traditional punishments did not cut the mustard. Instead of issuing perfunctory fines, the judge subjected offenders—comprised mainly of noisy neighbors, band members, and angsty teens—to numerous sessions of Barry Manilow and the soul-crushing theme song from Barney & Friends. Tracks performed by Joni Mitchell, Boy George, and the Platters were also said to feature in the ensemble. The judge even made one unsuspecting youngster listen to a track that he himself had written and performed.
Judge Sacco says his strategy has cut down on the number of people returning to court accused of noise violations. “This is a way, when I look back, of teaching manners to people,” stated Sacco. Each session of musical terror lasts an hour. If a person is caught liking one of the tunes during playtime, however, then the track is removed from the playlist.
A similar case emerged in 2008. Andrew Vactor was in trouble with the law for blasting rap music out of his car stereo. As a punishment for the noise violations, Illinois judge Susan Fornof-Lippencott sentenced Vactor to pay $150, a fine that would be reduced if the youngster agreed to listen to 20 hours of classical music. Alas, he only made it through 15 minutes of Beethoven before beating a hasty retreat. Vactor claimed he had basketball practice to attend. In the end, he paid the fine, pronouncing, “I didn’t have time to deal with that.”
4 The Kiddie Pool Punishment
In 2011, a couple of 20-somethings decided to raft their way through floodwater in Geauga County, Ohio. A local ranger espied the thrill-seeking duo, Bruce Crawford and Grace Nash. Realizing that neither resident was wearing a life jacket, and the danger they had put themselves in, the ranger set about trying to find them. When the pair was eventually located, the authorities asked whether they had been rafting in the floodwater. In a moment of recklessness, Crawford and Nash pleaded ignorance, prompting nine different departments to launch a search and rescue initiative to find the rafters the ranger had spotted. Search crews were joined by a Coast Guard helicopter which was dispatched from Detroit. Encountering the authorities for a second time, the pair refused to admit they were the owners of the unregistered raft. It took a third encounter before they admitted to rafting in the water.
Suffice to say, upon learning they had been conducting a pointless search, officials were not happy. Crawford and Nash found themselves in court facing charges of first-degree misdemeanor and a possible stint behind bars. The judge was none other than Michael A. Cicconetti. He showed mercy on the remorseful couple, dispensing one of his trademark punishments: go to jail or stand in a kiddie pool handing out safety leaflets at a local food festival. So, sporting a pair of fetching life jackets, the couple took the deal and spent two hours educating fellow Ohioans on the merits of water safety. They also put in an additional 100 hours’ worth of community service.
3 The Drag
Two men from Coshocton, Ohio, made the terrible mistake of hurling beer bottles at a female driver, damaging her car in the process. All the while, the pair were shouting obscenities at the woman.
For their crimes, Jason Householder and John Stockum were hauled in front of Judge David Hostetler. Cut from the same cloth as Judge Cicconetti, Hostetler gave the pair a choice: spend two months in jail or walk through town in drag and pay a small fine. The judge stipulated that both offenders would wear dresses, wigs, and makeup. “Both have sisters who are going to help,” concluded Judge Hostetler. Biting the bullet, the men squeezed themselves into their best dresses and dunked their heads in a vat of makeup.
The pomp and circumstance drew sizable crowds, causing Coshocton to grind to a standstill. Escorted by their probation officer, the dolled up duo, one in black, the other in red, worked their way through the packed streets. In a cruel twist of fate, the event came to an abrupt end after a member of the crowd lobbed a soda bottle at one of the downtrodden drag queens. Luckily, the police were on hand to apprehend the perpetrator and bring the queens’ misery to an end.
2 Too Short For Prison
In an extraordinary sentence, a Nebraska judge decided a child molester was too short for prison. Richard W. Thompson was convicted of sexually assaulting his fiancee’s 12-year-old daughter in 2006. Although Thompson could have faced almost a decade in prison, Judge Kristine Cecava took pity on the bespectacled felon because of his diminutive height. The judge said Thompson’s “inexcusable” behavior had betrayed the child’s trust, on both a physical and psychological level. However, Judge Cecava wondered whether the defendant’s height would adversely affect his prison experience.
“So I’m sitting here thinking this guy has earned his way to prison but then I look at you and I look at your physical size,” said Judge Cecava to the defendant. “I look at your basic ability to cope with people and, quite frankly, I shake to think what might happen to you in prison because I don’t think you’ll do well in prison.”
She continued: “That doesn’t make you a hunter, the predator that we hear about on [television] all the time. I was very relieved to know that you do not fit in that category of human being because that gives me more leeway to not send you to prison.”
Instead, Thompson was given ten years of supervised probation, five years for each count of sexual assault. He was also told to dispose of his pornography and stay away from children. The prosecution decided not to push for jail time.
The sentence prompted public outcry, and a petition was set up to protest the decision. Then–attorney general of Nebraska Jon Bruning unsuccessfully appealed the sentence on the basis it was too lenient.
Judge Cecava was removed from the bench in 2008.
1 Marriage Or Prison?
In 2015, Texas man Josten Bundy was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. The violent fracas kicked off when the ex-partner made a series of derogatory remarks about Elizabeth Jaynes. In response, an enraged Bundy resorted to a spot of pugilism, slugging his opponent in the face.
“Is she worth it?” inquired Judge Randall Rogers in court. Bundy conceded that his actions were wrong. In discussing his upbringing with his four sisters, however, Bundy responded, “I’d probably do the same thing.” The Smith County judge then issued an unusual ultimatum. Bundy had a choice between serving time in jail or marrying his girlfriend, Elizabeth. Worrying that a period of incarceration might jeopardize Bundy’s job, the pair reluctantly agreed. As part of the probation deal, the Texan was required to marry Elizabeth Jaynes within 30 days, seek counseling, and jot down biblical verses.
So, in what was possibly one of the most hurried, and least romantic, matrimonial ceremonies, the couple were wed. Although many of the relatives of the bride and groom could not make it to the impromptu nuptials, the Bundys planned a much grander wedding in the future.