February 5, 2009
"White folks don’t praise you unless you’re a damn fool." Mississippi Judge Disciplined For Comments in Re-election
Similar in context to the suspension Mike yesterday reported from Louisiana involving a lawyer's racist comments, comes an opinion issued today by the Mississippi Supreme Court [found via Download 3z4251x5.pdf.] This one involves a judge and a much more severe sanction. The Court, finding "willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute," removed the judge from office. [See update below.] The key facts:
[W]hile campaigning for reelection as a county court judge for Leflore County, Judge Solomon C. Osborne spoke before the Greenwood Voters League, a predominantly African-American political organization. Portions of his speech appeared the next day in the local newspaper, The Greenwood Commonwealth. In an article entitled: “Osborne: Blacks not where we should be. County judge says progress has been made, more is needed,” the newspaper quoted Judge Osborne as stating:
White folks don’t praise you unless you’re a damn fool. Unless they think they can use you. If you have your own mind and know what you’re doing, they don’t want you around.
... Forty-eight complaints were filed with the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance ... regarding Judge Osborne’s comments.
Three dissenters would have given more weight to the judge's first amendment interests in political speech during re-election, not finding persuasive the majority's distinguishing of judge-protective precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court. [Alan Childress, hat tip to Jane Hicks]
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: Here is a follow-up at the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog. In it, writer Nathan Koppel correctly notes that the Court stopped short of accepting the commission's recommendation of ordering that the judge not be allowed to hold office in the future. The final sanction assessed was in fact a public reprimand, and while the majority felt removal from office would be appropriate, the judge had already resigned by that point.
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