Tough judge: Caravati court known for harsh sentencing

Former Mayor Blake Caravati made his first appearance in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Friday, September 16, but details of the incident that led to his being charged with spousal assault on September 9 may remain cloaked until trial.

After waiting quietly in the courtroom for nearly an hour for a tardy Judge Dwight Johnson to arrive, the 60-year-old commercial contractor and prominent local Democrat, dressed in a sportcoat and slacks, was among the first called to the bench, where Charlottesville Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Elizabeth Killeen announced that, due to a conflict in her office, Greene County prosecutor Ronald Morris will handle the state's case.

If questions linger about the details of Caravati's alleged crime, his potential punishment also remains a question, and anyone familiar with Johnson's judicial record might ask– hyperbolically, one hopes– if Caravati could be the second mayor hanged for a crime against his wife.

As longtime readers of the Hook may recall, 107 years ago, Mayor Samuel McCue was hanged for the bludgeoning, strangling, and shooting death of his wife, Fannie. While Caravati isn't accused of anything so extreme– he's facing a single misdemeanor charge for assaulting his spouse– Judge Johnson once issued a sentence in another high-profile matter that shocked even the prosecution.

That was the case of Albemarle County resident Elisa Robinson, whom Johnson sentenced to eight years in prison for providing alcohol at her son's 16th birthday sleepover. At the time, those who knew Robinson– who has since divorced and changed her name to Elisa Kelly– described her as a devoted soccer mom who simply made an error in judgment.

In addition to the eight-year sentences for both Kelly and then husband George Robinson (both later reduced on appeal), the pair were perp-walked out of the courtroom in front of waiting media– adding further humiliation that, some suggested, Johnson orchestrated to deter other alcohol providers.

In the present case, however, even if Johnson, a conservative Christian, wants to throw the book at Caravati, he appears limited by statute, which sets the maximum possible sentence at 12 months behind bars and a $2,500 fine.

Even that, however, would be extreme for a first offense, says legal analyst David Heilberg, who points out that the state explicitly offers first-time offenders in violence against a family member an alternative to standard punishment: anger management classes or other counseling and a two-year probation, after which the charges may be dismissed.

Heilberg says he doubts Johnson would single anyone out for harsher punishment unless there were some aggravating fact.

"He has these cases all the time, and he's pretty consistent," says Heilberg. "If the Commonwealth agrees, and it's a first-time offender, he usually offers a deferral."

If Caravati's worried about Johnson's sentencing history, he's not saying. He remained in the courtroom for at least 30 minutes following the hearing, forcing some reporters on deadline to leave without questioning him. His attorney, Sheila Haughey, however, suggests the media should just ignore the case.

The Caravati family, "has obviously hit a rough patch," says Haughey. "Let's leave them alone."

The trial is scheduled for Friday, October 21, in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Read more on: Blake Caravati


Ms. Haughey, Mr. Caravati chose to be in the public's vision.

Perhaps he should have thought about that when he first ran for public office.

Good on the hook for pointing out how harsh Judge Johnson can be!

God forbid one of Charlottesville's leading citizens be punished harshly. That should only be reserved for the rest of us.

If The Hook won't stick up for the powerful and politically connected in this town, who will?

Why is the Hook talking about hanging, 8 years in prison, and 12 months in prison? The scurrilous rabble-rouser who wrote this article must be a female. The Hook has a fetish about alleged crimes involving females - and the Hook believes they are obviously guilty unless proven innocent. What trash you publish!

Hanging? WTF is wrong with you people? You're comparing this to someone giving alcohol to a minor? Have you lost your mind Stuart?

what's the big deal if Caravati beat up his wife a little? The hook is right. Domestic abuse isn't a big deal and should be punished as lightly as possible. If Judge Johnson , a conservative christian, punishes this crime harshly, there is clearly something wrong with the Judge!

There's different degrees of domestic abuse in determining if it's a big deal or not. Pushing a wife aside is indeed not a big deal. But punching her out or pushing her down a flight a stairs is a big deal. I'm sure Judge Johnson will decide fairly whether this particular case was a big deal or not. And I doubt Judge Johnson will penalize Caravati moreso simply because he is a public figure. :)

Heilberg has pretty accurately predicted the outcome of this case.... "anger management classes or other counseling and a two-year probation, after which the charges may be dismissed."

GSOE, you do a disservice to victims of domestic abuse everywhere when you attempt to categorize this behavior or that as "not a big deal." Plenty of spouses are "pushed aside" quite regularly, and that kind of behavior is a form of abuse, as well. Some spouses experience abuse that never reaches the physical, but is just as intimidating and fear-engendering. Victims of domestic violence receive so many messages like this, telling them to shrug off such behavior, calling it "nothing." It's gaslighting at best, and at worst, prelude to a tragedy.

The Shelter For Help in Emergency, among other organizations in town, is available for people in domestic crisis, and has a 24-hour hotline. (434) 293-8509.

Gasbag, dont be pushin no woman!

The link to the article: "Caravati gets unpredictable judge"

The actual article: "He has these cases all the time, and he's pretty consistent"

The title of the article: "Tough judge: Caravati court known for harsh sentencing"

The actual article:"he usually offers a deferral."

The hook is now in Glenn Beck territory. "The President is a racist." One moment later, "I'm not saying 'The President is a racist'".

Does Courteney Stuart actually read the words she writes in her article? Is she at all responsible for the completely misleading link text and article title? Do the words in her own article mean anything at all? Is it amateur hour over at the hook or what?

I have found Johnson and other judges to be extremely soft on domestic violence. The person gets sent to anger management which is a prescribed class which uses a workbook and has prescribed questions. It is usally run by someone who is not even a licensed therapist. Even their website says the individual may continue to abuse during the class. There is no counseling involved, i.e . a slap on the wrist at most. This gives a clear message to victims that no one, including the court will protect them or thinks it is a big deal.

Unpredictable judge? Sounds like Mr. Caravati may well be an unpredictable person............

Of course, the females and girlymen have already convicted this guy. What do you know of the facts? Nothing. Nothing at all. For all you know she might have abused him, and he suffered it for the sake of his 30 year marriage to her. This is fantasy also, just like your false visions of of presumed guilt, and justice. All of you females (and girlymen) should be ashamed of yourselves.

bintherdunthat learned a new word, girlymen. And the wonder is he, or she, aint ashamed to use it!

Just another big Cville ego that got out of hand? She didn't do what HE wanted, so he tried to "influence" her with his fists? Facts will be revealed for all in court.

As my aunt used to say, "no one knows what really goes on behind closed doors" and "there are always two sides to every story."

Woman allows teenage boys to drink some beer at a sleepover, no one is killed or injured, victimless crime, she gets sentenced to 12 years in jail. Man beats up his wife, is likely to get sentenced by the very same judge to an anger management course and no time in jail. Something seriously wrong with this picture. The mother should have been required to take an alcohol safety course and maybe pay a fine. The wife-beater should serve hard time. Talk about a messed-up situation.