CINCINNATI — Judge William Mallory enjoys handing out creative sentences from his bench at the Hamilton County Courthouse.
But one he meted out Wednesday in his Municipal Court room wasn’t even his idea. Instead of sending Jake Strotman to jail on a misdemeanor attempted assault conviction, Mallory sent the 23-year-old Catholic to a Baptist church for the next 12 Sundays.
The sentence was Strotman’s idea.
To understand how Stroman got to court, rewind to a Saturday night, Jan. 23, just after the Cincinnati Cyclones beat the Fort Wayne Komets here. Strotman, who lives downtown, had imbibed with his buddies at the hockey game and approached a band of Baptist street preachers who were, as he puts it, condemning him.
A curious and naturally jovial guy, Strotman said he “gave them my 2 cents’ worth.
“They were telling me I was going to hell,” Strotman said Thursday. “I was asking them: ‘Why do you think you can condemn people?’ I didn’t understand why they thought they could judge me.”
Apparently, that was just enough for someone else to approach the church folks. This man, Strotman said, “started going off like a ball of fire” — screaming, foul words and threats before that guy broke a camera church members brought out in case of violence or altercations.
The church folks threatened to make a citizen’s arrest. Someone pushed and shoved, and the fray was on.
Strotman somehow ended up at the bottom of a pile and “was eating asphalt.” He pushed himself up with one hand and planted another hand square on the face near the bespectacled eye of Joshua Johnson, who had just been preaching the word of God.
Johnson’s face apparently was cut by his glasses. Strotman was charged with low-level assault.
Strotman said he never meant to hurt anyone. He just wanted to understand their ministry.
That brings us to Wednesday and Mallory’s courtroom.
Mallory to Strotman: “Had you been drinking?”
Yes, Your Honor,” Strotman said.
Mallory knew it was dollar beer night at the hockey game.
“I have gone to a few Cyclones games, but I never had a fight at a Cyclones game. No, I haven’t.” the judge said. “So all right. What am I supposed to do? Because 90 days in jail is on the table.
“Take a look at my friend Gary behind you,” he said, referring to his bailiff. “Take a look at him. See how he has the handcuffs. He is a good reader of me and he suspects that I might be locking you up today.”
Strotman didn’t want to go jail. He’s a self-employed salesman of windows, siding and doors.
Mallory began talking to Johnson, who was injured.
“I’m trying to get to something reasonable here,” the judge said. “And I’ll be honest with you guys, sometimes in certain places people don’t want to be preached to. You agree with that right?”
Johnson said he did.
“I admire the fact that you want to spread the word of God because I’m a religious man, too,” Mallory said. “Also the thing about religion, I think it is kind of personal, and for me I don’t try to impose my religious views on other people except for sometimes in this room.”
But, the bigger question came down to punishment, which the creative jurist told them can take many forms.
With visions of jail cells dancing in his head, Strotman nearly interrupted the judge: “Your honor, if I may, I would be more than happy to serve a church of your choosing.”
Mallory: “Time out. We may have an answer here.”
He addressed his thoughts to Johnson.
“So for his penance, what if I make him go to your church a number of Sunday services?”
Strotman was sentenced to attend 12 consecutive Sunday services at Morning Star Baptist Church in West Chester Township, Ohio, about 25 miles from his home. He was ordered to attend each entire 90-minute service.
The minister must sign the weekly program. That’s 18 hours of solid Baptist teaching.
He also paid $480 in court fines and a $2,800 lawyer bill.
“Three months, that’s not that bad,” Strotman said. “I think it’s a nice example of hearing people out instead of getting angry and jumping to conclusions.
“I’m going to listen with both my ears and keep my mouth shut,” he said. “Then, maybe I’ll try to sell them some windows.”