CINCINNATI — Judge William Mallory enjoys handing out creative sentences from his bench over at the Hamilton County Courthouse.
But the one he meted out in his Municipal Court room Wednesday wasn't even his idea.
And boy, oh boy, did he like it.
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 we got here, you have to rewind to Saturday night, Jan. 23, just after the Cincinnati Cyclones beat the Fort Wayne Komets down at U.S. Bank Arena.
Strotman, a downtown resident, had imbibed with his buddies at the hockey game and was in fine form when he 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 two-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 some other knucklehead to approach the church folks. This man, Strotman said, "started going off like a ball of fire." There was screaming and 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.
There was a push and a shove. 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 was apparently 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 Mallory's courtroom.
Mallory to Strotman: "Had you been drinking?"
"Yes, your honor."
Mallory is nobody's fool. 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 sure didn't want to go jail.
No, sir. No, thank you. Anything but jail, thought the self-employed salesman of windows, siding and doors.
Mallory to injured party Johnson:
"I'm trying to get to something reasonable here. 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?"
Yes, he 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.
"So I'm open to suggestions."
There it was, an opening.
With visions of cell bars 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 would be sentenced to attend 12 consecutive Sunday services at Morning Star Baptist Church. He was ordered to attend each entire 90-minute service. He must get the weekly program signed by the minister.
That's 18 hours of solid Baptist teaching.
He also paid $480 in court fines and a $2,800 lawyer bill.
Whatever you think of the decision, take a listen to what Strotman has to say about his sentence:
"Three months, that's not that bad,'' he 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."