Complaint: Reassigned Allegheny County judge referred to black juror as 'Aunt Jemima'

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Mark Tranquilli referred to a black female juror as "Aunt Jemima" repeatedly in comments in chambers following the acquittal of a drug suspect two weeks ago, according to a written complaint, leading to his reassignment this week.
President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark reassigned Judge Tranquilli on Tuesday to summary appeals following an interview of the judge by the court administration staff about what he allegedly said.
The action was taken after Judge Tranquilli made comments in his chambers in the presence of the prosecutor, Ted Dutkowski, and the defense attorney, Joe Otte.
The judge has not responded to requests for comment this week and Mr. Dutkowski also did not respond to a message. But a written complaint by Mr. Otte to the state Judicial Conduct Board, obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, details the conversation with the judge. Mr. Otte declined to comment.
The statement indicates that Judge Tranquilli was upset that the suspect was found not guilty and criticized Mr. Dutkowski for not adequately screening the jurors.
"The judge then said that Ted had made a terrible decision by allowing 'Aunt Jemima' on the jury," the complaint reads. "The juror, Juror #4, was a young black woman who had worn a hair wrap throughout the trial. The judge expressed that he knew Ted was not going to get a conviction from the moment Juror #4 was questioned."
The complaint also says that the judge indicated he knows that the woman's "baby daddy" probably sells heroin and that her "presumed bias in favor of heroin dealers had caused or contributed to the not guilty verdict."
The defendant had been previously convicted of simple possession and was being retried on a count of possession with intent to deliver following a hung jury. After a day of jury selection and two days of trial, the jury found the defendant not guilty.
"Following the verdict, Judge Tranquilli was visibly upset," Mr. Otte's complaint said. "When he received the verdict slip, he read it and immediately tossed it back at his minute clerk."
When the judge called the defendant forward for sentencing on the simple possession conviction, he "proceeded to make several comments about my client's criminal history in the presence of the jury," including mentioning a federal drug sentence the man is serving.
"The judge made several additional comments to the effect that he believed my client was a drug dealer rather than a drug user," the complaint states.
Mr. Otte declined to comment.
After the jury was dismissed, the judge called the two lawyers into his chambers and then "immediately expressed his dissatisfaction with the jury." It was in that context that he made the racially charged comment about Juror #4, according to the complaint.
A formal record of the conversation is not available because no court reporter attended the meeting in chambers.
Judge Tranquilli was elected to the bench in 2013 after serving as a deputy district attorney in charge of the homicide unit.
In a letter to President Judge Clark Wednesday night, the Black Political Empowerment Project in Pittsburgh called for the judge’s “immediate suspension.”
“We found these remarks beyond disturbing,” B-PEP Chairman Tim Stevens said in the letter. “With his racist views on record he need not be in position to judge anyone or anything.
“We ask that Judge Mark Tranquilli not be allowed to practice his racist attitudes on any future cases in Allegheny County, and that he be immediately removed from any active service for the courts of Allegheny.”
B-PEP also asked President Judge Clark “to strongly encourage the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board to move quickly and swiftly to investigate this very troubling case.”
The group said those who stepped forward were “courageous and sensitive enough to write a complaint about Judge Tranquilli’s statements.”
Powered by Blogger.