It was the summer of 2013—a year before then-Ravens running back Ray Rice laid bare the distressingly busy intersection of sports and domestic violence—when 33-year-old Monique Bradley stood in a Los Angeles courtroom, her health rapidly failing. Alternately addressing the judge and her estranged husband, Milton Bradley, the famously volatile baseball player, Monique asserted: “For 10 years, he’s physically, emotionally abused me and he doesn’t even think he’s accountable for that.”
This was coupled with evidence, from photos of Monique’s bruises to threatening text messages from Bradley (“[Your lawyer] will get u killed…U have no power and never will”) to an explicit video he had sent his father-in-law with the tag, “That’s your daughter getting F— and there’s more where that came from.”
The evidence against Bradley was so vast that the prosecutor, Michelle Lim, asserted that in her 20 years of practice, she had “never seen a case this egregious.” And Bradley’s own lawyer, Harland Braun, a high-profile L.A. defense attorney, was left to make this curious argument about the ex-All-Star who played 12 seasons in the major leagues: “He’s basically paid a fortune because of the way he can hit a ball with a bat, and he’s athletic. So if the interaction of the domestic violence had been more serious, you would have seen a lot more injuries.”
The jury convicted Bradley on nine counts including infliction of corporal injury on a spouse and assault with a deadly weapon. In a strikingly blistering opinion, the Los Angeles Superior Court judge, Thomas Rubinson, did not conceal his outrage. “Milton Bradley dehumanized Monique Bradley….She wasn’t a partner at all. She was just another one of his things to dictate and manipulate and, if he didn’t get his way, to overpower.” The judge also addressed Bradley specifically, “You seem to be just a balled-up fist of a man.”
Bradley appealed the conviction. On Sept. 14, 2014, Monique Bradley died from what her death certificate described as cryptogenic (i.e. of unknown origin) cirrhosis of the liver, hemorrhagic shock and cardiorespiratory arrest. Milton Bradley remarried, but by then had exhausted the appeals process and on May 11 he faced Rubinson again for sentencing. “Ray Rice slaps the hell out of a woman, you know,” Bradley explained. “I didn't do that. I'm not Ray Rice. [NFL defensive end] Greg Hardy beats up a woman. I didn't do that. You know what I'm saying? It's obvious to everyone this is a complete farce.”
Rubinson called Bradley’s final written request for leniency “breathtaking, frankly, in how callous" it was and responded to Bradley’s outburst in court: “Well, Mr. Bradley, the fact that you're saying things like that is, to me, not a good sign." That day, Bradley began serving a 32-month sentence.
Since his incarceration, Bradley has filed multiple motions to modify his sentence. On Sept. 10, he apologized to the court and asserted that he was a changed man. He also cited the trauma that his incarceration was bringing to his sons. “The anger that I have now is just at myself for causing added drama to the children.”
This time, Bradley’s plea appears to have fallen on sympathetic ears. So withering just a few months prior, Rubinson is reconsidering the sentence and may suspend the remaining jail time, which would free Bradley just five months after the former All-Star went behind bars. “Am I 100% certain that Mr. Bradley has made a 180-degree turn? No,” the judge said. “But he’s shown some significant signs that he’s starting to acknowledge his own responsibility for his behavior and to look inward more than perhaps he ever had before…. Mr. Bradley [is] trying to convince me that change has happened. And I’m starting to see that.”
What accounts for the court’s apparent dramatic reversal? Could it be a function of Bradley’s high-priced legal representation? Or a consequence of prison overcrowding, a national problem that is particularly acute in California? Or, less cynically, a judge’s authentic belief that Bradley has been at least somewhat rehabilitated. That the interests of the children outweigh the danger of retribution or deterrence. We don't know because Rubinson declined interview requests, citing “the canon of ethics” preventing him from speaking about a pending case.
Multiple attorneys in California could not recall a sentence being so dramatically reduced. Others see it as part of a trend of judges cherry-picking social science. “Research does show that it's better to have a father in the child’s life; but that research doesn’t include perpetrators of domestic violence,” says Kim Susser, Director of Matrimonial and Family Law at New York Legal Assistance Group. “The research on domestic violence is overwhelmingly clear about the negative impact it has on children.”
Advocates for Monique Bradley, including her parents, hope that those sharing their outrage will make their feelings known with their presence by show up next week in Rubinson’s courtroom, where he is expected to announce his decision. The next hearing for Milton Bradley will be held in Department N on the 9th Floor of the Van Nuys Courthouse, 14400 Erwin St. It’s scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 14, which is in the middle of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.