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Judge J. Michael Traynor’s Alarming Equivalence Between an Attempted Murderer and His Victim

| February 2, 2014

Circuit Judge J. Michael Traynor addressing the prosecution and the defense during the sentencing hearing of Nathaniel Juratovac (far left) in a St. Augustine courtroom in late January. (© FlaglerLive)

Circuit Judge J. Michael Traynor addressing the prosecution and the defense during the sentencing hearing of Nathaniel Juratovac (far left) in a St. Augustine courtroom in late January. (© FlaglerLive),

Ten days ago I was in the St. Augustine courtroom of Circuit Judge J. Michael Traynor, covering the sentencing hearing of Nathaniel Juartovac. That’s the former Flagler Beach cop who was pleading guilty to attempted murder in the shooting of Flagler County firefighter Jared Parkey during a so-called road-rage incident last March.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive It was supposed to be a routine hearing, and for the most part it was. The facts were straight-forward. Juratovac and Parkey were driving north on US1. Both had their wife and young child in their car (a 17-month-old girl in Parkey’s car, a 4-year-old girl in Juratovac’s). The two cars were following too closely to each other. They tangled, brake-checked, bumped. Parkey threw a water jug at Juratiovac’s car. The two cars had a minor collision, and with that swerved and parked on the side of the road.

Juratovac came out with his gun and fired two bullets at an unarmed Parkey, hitting him twice. He called it self-defense. It wasn’t rage. It was stupidity. And it was left up to Juratovac’s wife, a deputy with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, to try to control her husband at the scene while Parkey lay bleeding. The similarity with the more recent movie-theater shooting, in which a retired cop shot and killed a man armed with nothing more than popcorn during a minor argument, is unnerving, and should put to rest whatever blind worship accompanies ex-cops as potential guardians of the peace.

For Juratovac, it was the culmination of a very checkered career in and out of law enforcement that’s seen him face charges of aggravated assault and improper exhibition of a weapon previously, as well as charges of perjury and falsifying documents when he was a Flagler Beach cop. All charges were dropped, but after the perjury charge his boss in Flagler Beach wanted him fired. Juratovac resigned instead. He’s never apologized for the shooting, down to his statement in the courtroom in January, where he justified himself even as he was pleading guilty. He’s the sort of man whose don’t-screw-with-me demeanor was a loaded weapon waiting to go off. And of course, it did.

Here’s where things got strange in the courtroom. Just before Juratovac was sentenced to four years in prison, Judge Traynor felt compelled to address the case not in legal terms, but as an observer like you and me. In other words he was not administering law. He was editorializing. Judges do it all the time, and sometimes have fascinating insights. Sometimes they don’t. This is what Traynor said: “We all should recognize the fact that the actions of two people that day created a danger not only to their families in the car, but to the other citizens” on the road. That’s true, although Traynor was making an unusual comparison between an attempted murderer and an angry driver, without making any difference between the actions of the two individuals. Traynor didn’t leave it at that. “We wouldn’t be in this situation today,” he added, “if two people hadn’t acted irresponsibly and recklessly on the highway.” (See the full context of his remarks below.)

It was a stunning thing to say for a judge who was just about to sentence a man for attempted murder, while the criminal’s victim sat a few feet away, in the same courtroom. Parkey was there, a free man, but also an innocent man, and a victim of the worst act of violence short of death. He was not facing any charges. He was not on trial. He may have been rash on the road. Throwing a jug of water at another car is reckless and idiotic. But that’s where it ended. There is no comparison with what happened next.

It was Juratovac who pulled a gun, who fired a gun, and who struck Parkey twice, with every intention of killing him, while Parkey showed his empty hands. Keep in mind that the one police officer at the scene the whole time, Juratovac’s wife, never felt compelled to pull her gun at Parkey, as the prosecution made clear: her concern, as she told the dispatcher, was keeping her husband under control, not fearing Parkey.

For the judge to turn the attack into an equivalence of responsibilities was inexplicable. In a legal context, it was immoral. He reminded me of Sharia-law jurists who, in the Muslim world’s more regressive courtrooms, find ways to turn the table on a rape victim and slap her with responsibility in the attack.
It may have had something to do with Juratovac’s connection to the law enforcement community, though I would hope not. (The friendly, gingerly treatment Juratovac got at bailiffs’ hands after the sentencing, in contrast with the way felons are usually handled, was an appalling display of favoritism.) Or it had to do with the perverted reasoning in Florida that rationalizes the use of violence and guns all the way into this state’s courtrooms.

Maybe Traynor didn’t express himself clearly. Maybe he intended to make a more sensible point about the danger of escalating arguments that, in less weaponized cultures, never go beyond words or, at most, fists. But he made the same point twice, and sounded adamant both times. He diminished the gravity of the case by making the victim share in the guilt of the violent felon he was sentencing.

This is why victims of gun violence sometimes have such hard time in this state making their case against their aggressor. This is why the culture excuses and enables such inherently dangerous laws as stand your ground, and why men feel too routinely justified to pull guns and triggers in situations where their response is clearly disproportionate to whatever danger they claim to be facing. They may be trigger-happy goons. But they wouldn’t feel so empowered without trigger-happy gun laws that enable don’t-screw-with-me smugness while dropping a trail of bodies in their wake.

Juratovac may very well have thought that no matter what he did, he’d get away with it. He almost did. And in that courtroom, the judge managed to accuse his victim for good measure.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this commentary was broadcast on WNZF.

Circuit Judge J. Michael Traynor. (© FlaglerLive)

Circuit Judge J. Michael Traynor.
(© FlaglerLive)

The context of Judge J. Michael Traynor’s remarks: Traynor spoke only briefly during the Jan. 24 sentencing hearing. He did so after Nathaniel Juratovac, the defense (attorney Patrick Canan) and the prosecution each spoke, with the defense and prosecution again arguing facts of the case. Traynor then spoke. This is what he said in full:

“The status of the law is what it is. It’s not my job to make new law, it’s not my job at this point to criticize or not to criticize. It’s my job to apply the law as it applies to this case. If there’s a challenge Mr. Canan that you feel needs to be made to the law you know that the Legislature is the place to do that not in this courtroom at this time. I would say this. And I think we all should recognize the fact that the actions of two people that day, uh, created a danger not only to their families in the car, but to the other citizens of this county, this state, upon the incident on the road, and there’s no excuse for that no matter who did it. Uh, you know, I’m, you know, I don’t take the, the, the use of force has already been determined by the plea and you’ve come to a resolution with that, and I accept the fact that Mr. Juratovac has, has, you know, found it within himself that that’s what he should do, but I didn’t want to let it be unsaid that, you know, we wouldn’t be in this situation today if two people hadn’t acted irresponsibly and recklessly on the highway, either. So, I mean I think, I think something, if nothing else is said, people at least will see the consequences of, of those types of irresponsible and reckless acts. All right, anything further, gentlemen?”

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28 Responses for “Judge J. Michael Traynor’s Alarming Equivalence Between an Attempted Murderer and His Victim”

  1. Wow says:

    Wow, so that felon will be out in less than 4 years for shooting an unarmed man? That guy had played it fast and loose is Flagler for years, I guess we can look forward to some more megalomaniac behavior in the future. Yay.

    • James smith says:

      Hopefully you don’t drive too aggressivley in St. Johns or Flagler County, because this “victim” will try to run you off the road and fight you! Idiot

  2. Pcmommy says:

    Interesting perspective, I agreed with most of your article until the end when you painted the picture of lawful gun owners as criminals “dropping a trail of bodies in their wake”.

    Your “equivalency” to this case and “stand your ground laws” is disproportunate. The laws are very specific and not Trigger-happy laws as you flippantly describe. I don’t agree with the actions of this ex-cop. He obviously has other problems including anger-issues and the facts seem to be pointed to attempted murder, not “stand your ground”. It would all depend on the “victim’s behavior”. Was he driving so aggressively he was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon? Was he ramming the ex-cops
    Vehicle or forcing him off the road? Did he shout threats to hurt or kill? Both parties agitated the situation and acted irresponsibly, but that doesn’t justify pulling a gun and shooting a man in front of his family. The ex-cop seems to have been served a healthy dose of justice and imprisonment.

    With driving and firearms comes great responsibility. Both can be used to kill by accident or by the will of the human behind them. Many people are severely injured from reckless driving and road rage. Neither seemed to be acting responsibly.

    Let me be clear, I’m not condoning or justifying the ex-cop’s behavior, I am saying both can be deadly if not used appropriately. Florida doesn’t have “trigger-happy laws” as they are more restrictive than other states.

    Responsible people hope they never have to use their firearm, but if someone is trying to hurt you or your family, wouldn’t you try to stop them? I hope so.

    • A.S.F. says:

      People were able to defend themselves in court where self-defense was an issue before “Stand your Ground” came into its unfortunate existence. Too often, it seems to give some trigger-happy individuals a sense of carte blanche to respond violently (and lethally) without much thought as to the consequences that might result.

      @Steve Wolfe: “A nut with a gun…” Good point…There will always be nuts. There don’t always have to be too many guns in the hands of said nuts.

  3. anonymous says:

    Pierre, please don’t be surprised, the Judge knows this will happen again and the door has to be left open for THOSE they/he wants to benefit from shooting an unarmed person based off of some perceived fear. Short version they can flip flop, pick and choose, whatever you want to call it to minimize or set free the shooter anyway they see fit under stand your ground, self defense or justifiable homicide.

  4. Roy says:

    Peirre, While I may disagree with your stance on guns, idiots like Juratovac weakens my argument. Parkey made mistakes that day and many here will agree with the judge. But Parkey’s mistakes did not warrant a death sentence which he nearly received. Parkey’s a good family man and I’m glad to call him my friend. I hope no one that criticizes him has to go what he went through,

  5. Steve Wolfe says:

    Pierre, I agree that there is no equivalence between a bottle of water heaved at a car and two bullets fired squarely into the chest to kill an unarmed man. In fact, the bad guy is going to jail (and I think four years is too little, frankly). But the judge pointed out the obvious when he reminded everyone that it takes two to tango, so don’t respond in kind when you are confronted by a driver with poor manners, especially since you don’t know who you are dealing with. It could have turned out just as badly, or worse, with a machete instead of a gun. If I had been the survivor of such an incident, I would forever be replaying the events in my mind to think what I could have done to avoid that outcome, and slapping myself for putting my family’s future in jeopardy by tangling with a nut with a gun.

    I have seen some pretty bizarre driving here, but I have been wisely counseled to just leave more space, take my time, don’t get upset, and stay off the horn. I don’t want confrontation with anyone, but if I am assaulted or threatened by someone with the ability to harm me or my wife, I want the ability to defend myself. I reject the painting of all gun ownership as inherently dangerous, and I don’t believe all former police can be painted with the same brush, either. I’m going to continue to appreciate law enforcement, being fully aware that they are people, too. We are not yet at the point of engineering away human nature. Till then, we all have to be prepared to deal with it on its terms. Sociopaths like Traynor think that we must all deal with it on their terms. We can’t afford to.

    • Nancy N. says:

      Will you listen to yourself? You just basically said that you are afraid to honk at someone while driving for fear of being shot! (And you are correct. That is a valid fear.) What the hell has this world come to when I can’t drive down the road without having to worry that something I do while driving will get me shot?

      • Steve Wolfe says:

        Oh, Nancy, take a breath, or switch to decaf. Tell you what, if it makes you feel better, I will honk at you (if you promise not to shoot!).

        I’m sorry, Nancy, I couldn’t resist. No offense meant. Actually I think that horns are a little over-used in Palm Coast. I am amazed that some people feel the necessity to blow their horns here, as if we have actual bad traffic. Usually I think it’s over impatience with somebody who isn’t wired like the honker. It also amazes me how people seem to pull out in front of me on the 3-lane section of Palm Coast Parkway when I am the only car in sight, and they somehow have to pull into the lane I am in. It is pretty consistent, so I think there’s some kind of state-wide contest going on that I didn’t hear about. (Dummy me.)

        Now Nancy, one more thing. Don’t be afraid. Arm yourself.

        By the way, when I listen to myself, all I can hear is my tinnitus.

      • James smith says:

        Did he get shot in his car? No. He got out of his car and engaged in an altercation. Had he been the bigger man, he would of de-escalated the sitation and drove off. Nope, his pride got in the way because of the other drivers actions. He had to be the MAN and get out of his car to fight this other driver. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

    • James smith says:

      I agree with your entire statement expect for this last part. It does take two to tango, however, if you’re confronted with a dangerous situation, you call police. That’s what they are there for. This victim didnt have to get out of his vehicle. He didn’t have to pull over to get in a fight. So I think the notion of defending his family is a little far fetched. The only thing he attempted is his familys pride by not driving off.

  6. Perplexed says:

    While this article was well written, and I agree with most of it, including the fact that the victim in this case certainly did not deserve to be shot and almost killed over a childish “road rage incident”, I do take a strong exception to one of the points made, referring to the “blind worship that accompanies ex-cops as potential guardians of the peace.” This clearly paints all ex-police officers as mentally unstable, trigger happy madmen one crisis away from blowing someone away. I pray that your readers take this ignorant statement for what it clearly is, an attempt to discredit and dishonor those “ex-cops” (and there are many of them) who served their communities honorably and enjoy a peaceful retirement, who are respected by many. Gun violence permeates our society on a daily basis and is perpetrated by a broad cross section of society, including ex-cops, ex-firemen, car dealers, doctors, lawyers, and perhaps even…..ex-editors.

  7. James says:

    I was thinking along the same lines when I saw it on the tv news. Thank you for taking the time to bring more attention to judge’s inappropriate comments.

  8. Teddy says:

    This is the all to common kind of thing that happens when a judge views his/her job as being part of law enforcement. Woe to anyone who is not part of law enforcement and unlucky enough to be in this court.

  9. Howard Duley says:

    Most of the time I don’t agree with Pierre. He is more liberal than I care to be. But this was an excellant piece that described the incident right on the money. I find myself supprised to be in total agreement with you. I enjoy reading FlaglerLive.

  10. Bill Hazz says:

    Hey Pierre,

    I applaud you for this significant piece of reporting. This judge must be whacko (or something close) to handle this case the way he did.

    I hope you keep track of the next election that he will participate in . . . I would definitely like to vote against him, assuming he has an opponent, and said opponent is still breathing (or, at least close). This treatment of a victim is NOT ok.

  11. Hear clear says:

    Wow… Are there any positive examples of any Flagler officers doing well for there community or department. Seems all we read about any more is how they most a bunch of low lifes. It’s a shame and we wonder why people in our community fear the police and think they are the “bad guys”

  12. Geezer says:

    A superb and appreciated article…

    I get the impression from the judge’s editorializing that he was actively playing
    down Juratovic’s actions at Parkey’s expense. The judge was weaving on the
    road of impartiality. And I am sure that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    I personally witnessed a judge (in Flagler) show disdain for struggling homeowners and
    marked sympathy for bank attorneys at a foreclosure hearing.

    If you’re under the impression that judges are of unimpeachable character –
    then you’re foolish. Judges are so used to people kissing their asses that it goes to their heads.

    No surprise here.

  13. Just an observation says:

    Unless I misread the article, Parkey first threw a jug of water at Juratovac’s car. That could have caused Juratovac’s car to crash. So while I don’t think its an excuse to shoot someone, I certainly don’t believe Parkey was an innocent victim. They both acted like jerks and others could have been hurt because of their behavior. Both of these men had passengers in the car ,including small children. Its shameful.

    • truth monitor says:

      @Observation. Congratulations for seeing that Parkey was not an innocent victim. Both men apparently displayed actions that are not excusable.Turn the the situation around and ask why didn’t Parkey drive off to a safe location instead of jumping out of his vehicle in a steroid rage? Where are the toxilcology report for alcohol or drug’s. Makes me wonder if another flawed St Johns investigation was conducted. Wasn’t one of the investigator’s involved with constitutional rights abuse by snatching paperwork from an lawyer? How can anyone trust the credidibility of a law enforcement officer who flagrantly abused the constitutional rights of an individual? I believe he is still employed at the Sheriffs department. What a poor excuse of a law enforcement officer.He is still employed and the department was sued for over 1,000,000 dollars. I believe his name is Marmor. Yes what a sterling example of abusive and despicable behavior But he is protected and we all know who he bends over for!.

    • James smith says:

      Wow… someone with common sense.. our future isn’t doomed after all!

  14. justwondering says:

    Mr. Juratovac’s actions were horrendous and he deserves his time in prison. Parkey’s actions actions were also despicable. They were both cowboys that day. One had a gun and the stupidity and irrationality to use it. The other had his car, his irrationality and a water jug. It is an insult to women to compare Parkey to a rape victim.

  15. NortonSmitty says:

    So even when an ex-cop shoots an unarmed man in cold blood in fron of witnesses he gets FOUR YEARS IN PRISON??? Normal People get that sentence for breaking a guys nose in a fistfight! For this offense a civilian would get life in prison under the 10/20/life law, especially with this creeps priors. How long are we supposed to put up with this unequal justice?

  16. A.S.F. says:

    I thought Florida was supposed to be a “three strikes and your out” kind of state. I guess that only applies to selected groups.

  17. JIM says:

    I can’t believe that a man shot an unarmed man, tried to kill him. 4 years is an insult to the justice system.
    This sentence is a walk in the park for attempted MURDER!!!!!! There will be more shooting…Thanks,Judge.

  18. Rick says:

    “He’s the sort of man whose don’t-screw-with-me demeanor was a loaded weapon waiting to go off.”
    In other words he’s a ticking time bomb, a complete a-… to say the least.

    “We wouldn’t be in this situation today,”…..”
    If the two of them had acted their age instead of their shoe size.

    “(The friendly, gingerly treatment Juratovac got at bailiffs’ hands after the sentencing, in contrast with the way felons are usually handled, was an appalling display of favoritism.)”
    Is this really a surprise to anyone, towards one crooked arse cop at that?

    “He diminished the gravity of the case by making the victim share in the guilt of the violent felon he was sentencing.”
    Yea, that sounds equitable. One armed with a water jug & the other a loaded firearm.

    I’m not sure where in heck’s name that judge’s head was………obviously where the sun don’t shine.

  19. Reaganomicon says:

    Newsflash: regular laws and penalties do not apply to current or former police officers. I used to believe that police officers were on the whole good people that honestly wanted to serve their communities until I spent social time around them. I can only sit through so many stories about tuning up troublemakers at the Bimini or “giving the niggers a hard time” in bunnell, and it’s sad that even today, in flagler, active or retired officers and their families that cause trouble are treated with kids gloves and their victims are treated like shit.

  20. Diana L. says:

    And it is the woman’s fault when raped because she wore a short skirt. The judge even coming close to blaming the victim in this case, is beyond words. This victim is not at fault here.

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