Judge drops the ball on domestic violence

by Jim Longworth

Last week Wake Forest University basketball player Tony Woods appeared before Judge William Reingold to confess a crime, and to receive his punishment. The confession part went pretty well, but the punishment part, not so much. Woods admitted to assaulting his girlfriend Courtney Lorel Barbour in the presence of their 8-month-old son. But assault may not be the best word to describe what the 6-foot-11 inch Woods did to Barbour. According to testimony, the hoops star kicked and pushed Barbour, causing her to sustain a lumbar spine fracture. The injury also forced her to leave WFU, where she was on academic scholarship.

Despite the severity of Woods’ crime and the resulting injuries to his victim, Judge Reingold gave the offender a suspended 60-day jail sentence, a $100 fine and 100 hours of community service. As soon as the suspension was announced, women took to the blogosphere to vent their anger. Reingold’s slap-on-the-wrist ruling was an insult to women everywhere, especially to those who are at risk of domestic violence. It also sent a dangerous message to would-be abusers: that assaulting a woman carries no consequence.

Reingold’s ruling, aside from being wrongheaded, also seems to be in conflict with his own personal philosophy.

For example, he partnered with his alma mater on the WFU Domestic Violence Advocacy Center. yet when push came to shove (literally), he advocated for the offender rather than the victim. Surely Reingold must be aware of how pervasive domestic violence is in our country. So much so that Donna Shalala once dubbed it an epidemic. Research from the CDC, Department of HHS and other sources bear that out.

It is estimated that more than 2.5 million females experience some form of violence each year, two-thirds of whom are attacked by a family member.

According to the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition, a domestic violence act occurs every 15 seconds. Moreover, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 to 44. In fact, more than 1 million women seek medical assistance each year for injuries caused by battering. And every 21 days, a woman is killed as a result of domestic violence.

Yes there are an increasing number of girls and women who falsely accuse a man of battery in order to get revenge or gain an advantage in divorce court. But Tony Woods confessed his guilt, and Barbour’s injuries are real. That’s why it is hard to believe that Judge Reingold, a so-called advocate for victims of domestic violence, would let Woods walk out of the courtroom instead of ordering him into prison.

But perhaps the most bizarre utterance from the judge came not in his ruling on sentencing, but in a statement he made to an assistant WFU basketball coach. Walt Corbean was seated with the Woods family when

Reingold asked him to stand up. Corbean complied, and the judge proceeded to tell the coach that WFU should let Woods play ball, because that would provide the violent offender with “structure.”

Hey judge, doesn’t having a significant other and a baby also qualify as structure? Let’s face it, a 20-year-old man is not going to stop hitting women just because he’s allowed to play basketball or perform community service. Maybe if Woods was 14 years old, we could still rehab him with a strong support system. But the sad truth is that a violent adult leopard never changes his spots.

Thanks to Judge Reingold, Tony Woods now has a second chance.

The question is, to do what?

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).