Our Central Florida judges aren't always the best at deciding cases, but, hoo boy, do they know a thing or two about the outdoor lifestyle. Last week, Circuit Judge Gene Stephenson caused a bit of an uproar with a comment he made about a rape case that was being tried in his Sanford courtroom. As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, WKMG-TV Local 6 and other media outlets, Judge Stephenson at one point appeared to side with defendant Brian Joseph Huffman, sizing up the victim's relative assaultability with the shoot-from-the-hip observation, "Why would he want to rape her? She doesn't look like a day at the beach."
Before we get all crazy with shock and indignation here, it's important to note that Stephenson was not reacting to the victim's physical appearance in the courtroom, as some folks have incorrectly inferred. No, no, no. Such behavior would be an impolitic impossibility for this wise old guardian of the gavel. He was merely commenting on a photograph of the 57-year-old woman -- one taken after Huffman had allegedly broken into her house, beaten her, sexually assaulted her and taken her for a harrowing three- to four-hour drive in her own car. It was her bruised, post-trauma visage the judge was giving the thumbs-down to, not her spruced-up, Sunday-go-to-meetin' self. Feeling better now?
Complaints were nonetheless quick to pour in, and by last Thursday, a contrite Stephenson had taken himself off the case. By the time you read this, he may be headed for penalties ranging from a slap on the wrist to outright removal from the bench. The reverberations of the controversy were even felt here in the offices of the Orlando Weekly, where some female staff members suggested that Stephenson undergo serious sensitivity training -- preferably at the end of a Louisville slugger. Then again, we've learned from experience that you don't want to fall into the habit of going "ten-hut" every time one of those harpies gets her panties in a bunch about something. Just try suggesting that one of them 'wave you a lunch on a busy press day, and see how far it gets you.
So where others see outrageous misconduct, Dog Playing Poker hears a cry for help. We know that, in unfavorably comparing the anonymous complainant to "a day at the beach," Stephenson was actually transmitting the coded message, "I need a vacation!" And we're here to give it to him, under a thoughtful and innovative proposal we call:
JUDGE GENE'S SHORE THING '04
Totally at Orlando Weekly's expense, Judge Stephenson will receive a day's worth of fun in the sun at whatever seaside destination he chooses. Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, West Palm Beach -- any stretch of sand is fair game. And to make sure he enjoys his time away from professional (ir)responsibility, we're throwing in these extra amenities:
VIP Treatment As part and parcel of our offer, Judge Stephenson is granted admission to his beach of preference a full 30 minutes before the general public is let in. In this way, he'll be guaranteed access to its prime towel-planting real estate -- a superior vantage point from which to evaluate the physical attributes of the other bathers, while in turn treating them to the full impact of his striking, Foghorn-Leghorn-gone-judicial musculature.
Bikini contest Hey, we don't expect the poor guy to go a whole day without issuing a ruling of some sort! Stephenson will be the sole authority deciding the outcome of the morning's Hawaiian Tropic pageant, in which hopeful beach bunnies will line up to curry his porcine approval. With the P.C. police bound and detained at the lifeguard station, he'll be completely free to declare who's been working out, who got the hottest rack from her mama and whose flabby heinie he wouldn't cross the street to spank, thanks.
Lunch at Hooters A yummy meal of fried grouper and onion rings, topped off with a plate of our specially commissioned dessert, Hairline Fracture by Chocolate. And don't forget the keepsake photograph of his waitress to ogle again and again!
Afternoon concert The terminally righteous judge will groove to the soulful sounds of Mr. James Brown, the hardest-working man in domestic violence.
Full-contact volleyball He can play if he wants, but he'll probably opt to just watch.
Dinner with William Kennedy Smith What could be better than a leisurely sit-down with a man whose knowledge of sexual assault and oceanfront property is beyond reproach? (Uncle Teddy may tag along as well, pending the availability of shooters.)
Complimentary cartoon At a time convenient to him, Judge Stephenson will have his portrait drawn by one of the attractions industry's best street cartoonists, who will depict him as the hero in a seaside-brutality scenario based on the famous "The Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac" strip that once advertised the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course. In this modern derivation, "hero of the beach" Stephenson offers a sweetheart sentencing deal to a misunderstood bully who likes to kick sand in the face of a Gidget look-alike. Hey, she was asking for it.
Finally, when the sun is going down over the water and the last weenie has been roasted, the happy judge will call it a day. Picking up his folding chair and putting the cap back on his bottle of zinc oxide, he'll reflect on the radiant goodness of a community that meets innocent gaffes not with cold disapproval, but with the warmth of healing. At this time, a color guard of public defenders and Orlando Weekly readers will follow him to the parking lot and beat his proboscis up into his brain with a tire iron. Fun's fun and all, but we need our therapy, too.