Court-Ordered Community Service Gone Bad – featured on “Judge Judy”

I’m not much for reality TV. Except for one show. Judge Judy. It’s my late afternoon indulgence, working from home. It has less calories than anything in my all-too-close fridge.

Recently, on a rerun, an episode from 2012 was shown. A woman sentenced to community service for a DUI said a pastor had swindled her into free labor. In Judge Judy’s own words:

“You had to do a certain number of hours for community service (320). Your claim alleges that Miss Stewart, who you knew, scammed you into working for her at a shelter that she runs. And you thought you were doing work that would go towards your community service. And it turns out that she did not have the right paperwork. So you want her to pay you for the 143 hours that you spent working for free at her rescue. That’s what your case is about. Unusual. Miss Stewart says it was your idea to come to work and to do whatever you did around the shelter.”

So, how did Judge Judy rule?

She said that the woman who was suing for payment should have confirmed with the court that assigned her the community service that this shelter – which actually turned out to be not a nonprofit, but a woman who was inviting women in need to her house to pray with her – would be acceptable for her community service, and she should have gotten that confirmation in writing.

That’s the legal ruling. The ethical ruling is, of course, that the pastor should have had a written agreement with this woman, saying exactly what they were, or were not, agreeing to.

I realize a lot of managers of volunteers refuse to work with people assigned community service by a court or by a class, and they don’t see this as any kind of issue they have to care about. I think differently: people work unpaid at nonprofits and unofficial community organizations for a variety of reasons, and I’m okay with that. I’m concerned with just how often people undertake community service as directed by a court or class and find out the hours they’ve worked won’t meet their commitment. I wish more managers of volunteers were as well.

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