New Orleans Criminal District Judge Frank Marullo.
An editorial

Deante Brumfield was captured on videotape punching his girlfriend in the face on a streetcar in January.

But the 24-year-old man didn't even get a lecture about controlling his temper from Criminal District Judge Frank Marullo. The judge acquitted Mr. Brumfield, reserving his ire for prosecutors and for Mr. Brumfield's girlfriend. He threatened the young woman with jail because he thought she was being uncooperative and berated prosecutors for bringing the misdemeanor case to Criminal District Court.

"We have taken these domestic-violence cases from Municipal Court, and we're sitting here with all these cases when we have cases where people get shot and things like that," Judge Marullo said. "And we're sitting here with this case."

Essentially, the judge felt put upon. And he seems not to have considered the seriousness of a 22-year-old woman getting punched in the face.

The videotape was clear: She got punched. She was reluctant to testify, but she did. She didn't want Mr. Brumfield to go to jail, she said, just to anger management and parenting classes.

But Judge Marullo didn't even give her that much consideration. He gave Mr. Brumfield a pass.

The dismissiveness with which Judge Marullo handled the battery case is disturbing, particularly given the tragic consequences of other recent domestic violence cases at Criminal District Court.

Days after Magistrate Commissioner Marie Bookman found 78-year-old Alfred Andrews innocent of misdemeanor battery against his 31-year-old wife, police say that he killed her, her mother and sister before shooting himself in the face. That was March 31.

he quadruple homicide six days earlier of 25-year-old Angel Davis, her two young children and her sister also had roots in domestic violence. Damian Jordan, a relative who is accused of their deaths, was on probation for an attack on his girlfriend when the Davis family was killed. Criminal District Court Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson believed that he was a first-time offender when she gave him probation, but he had pleaded guilty in 2008 to punching his sister and was fighting Municipal Court charges in another alleged attack on his girlfriend.

This isn't how these cases should be handled.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro shifted domestic violence cases from Municipal Court to Criminal District Court last year with the expectation that offenders would face more serious punishment than they had in the past. His prosecutors try the misdemeanor cases, instead of lawyers from the city attorney's office. That makes sense. And the district attorney deserves credit for trying to get a handle on family violence, which is a serious problem in Louisiana.

But these recent cases indicate that some judges in New Orleans don't understand the volatility of abusive relationships, the control abusers have over their family or the difficulty victims have leaving a relationship or even reporting abuse.

Mr. Cannizzaro formed a domestic violence unit in his office to specialize in these cases. And he has required assistant district attorneys to attend legal education training in the subject. That hasn't prevented some glitches. Prosecutors apparently failed to inform Judge Landrum-Johnson of Mr. Jordan's earlier battery conviction, nor was a past rape charge against Mr. Andrews part of the magistrate trial record.

Still, Mr. Cannizzaro is right to have prosecutors specialize in domestic abuse. Judges and magistrates need training in domestic cases, too. Chief Judge Arthur Hunter ought to ensure that happens.

Ms. Bookman should have recognized troubling signs in Mr. Andrews' relationship with his wife. Jennifer Muse was only 16 when they became intimate, which would have been illegal, and Mr. Andrews came into the family while dating her mother. Mr. Andrews also admitted to pushing his wife down and blocking her exit from a bedroom.

But Ms. Bookman seemed to lack an understanding of abusive relationships. She essentially said that Ms. Muse brought the confrontation on herself. "That's a part of the consequence, she married someone ... forty-five, forty-six years her senior," Ms. Bookman said in her ruling.

That is a shockingly unenlightened attitude.

As for Judge Marullo, his attitude that the Brumfield case was unimportant because it didn't involve a shooting also shows a lack of awareness. Jennifer Muse went from being knocked down by her husband to being gunned down along with her mother and sister.

Judge Marullo has argued in the past that he shouldn't have been criticized for having a large backlog of cases because he held onto his misdemeanor cases, while other judges passed theirs off to magistrate court. That indicated that the judge viewed misdemeanors as worthy of his attention. Why wasn't this case important to him?

Family violence is a serious problem. This wasn't even a case that was difficult to sort out. The RTA surveillance video was clear, and the testimony backed it up.

Instead, Mr. Brumfield seems more likely to be in trouble for not paying the fines and fees required by his probation. He received five years' probation last year when he pleaded guilty to being an accessory to an aggravated assault with a firearm.

He has a court date this week to explain to Judge Lynda Van Davis why he has failed to meet the terms of his probation. Meanwhile, he has been in jail because he couldn't make bond in the battery case.

Mr. Brumfield could easily have left Judge Marullo's courtroom with a battery conviction on his record. If he had punched a stranger, maybe he would have.

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