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January 21, 2009

Racist(!?!?!) remarks by state sentencing judge leads to reversal

We all know thanks to Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby that kids say the darndest things.  But today brings a new state appellate case from Wisconsin that reminds us that some sentencing judges also say the darndest things, and those darn things can sometimes demand a reversal.  Here is the story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal:

A Milwaukee man convicted of selling cocaine will get a new sentencing hearing because the judge who sentenced him referred to the man's "baby mama" and asked him where "you guys" find women to support them while they stay home, the state Court of Appeals has ruled.

In a 2-1 opinion released today, the court found that then-Circuit Judge Joseph Wall, who is no longer on the bench, did not intend his comments to be offensive and did not intentionally engage in racial stereotyping.  "What concerns us is the reasonable perception of an African-American defendant, or an observer, that the sentence was imposed at least in part because of race." Judge Joan Kessler wrote for the majority.

Judge Patricia Curley was harsher and said the remarks were contrary to the Code of Judicial Conduct.   "The trial court's intemperate sentencing remarks," Curley wrote in a separate concurring opinion, "were sarcastic and demeaning, the antithesis of 'patient, dignified and courteous.' As is evident by the many sentencing transcripts that cross my desk, it is possible for a sentencing judge to mete out stiff (and often well-deserved) sentences without belittling the offender."

In dissent, Judge Kitty Brennan, who was the chief judge in Milwaukee until joining the appellate court last year, said she did not believe a new hearing is required because there was no racial subtext in Wall's remarks.

Wall, who left the bench in 2007 to rejoin the U.S. attorney's office in Milwaukee, called the majority's opinions convenient and opportunistic.  "The comments, reasoning, and conclusion of these two judges are legally incorrect and shameful, and are a transparent stretch to appear politically correct at a politically correct moment," he wrote in an e-mailed reply to a reporter seeking comment.

January 21, 2009 at 06:26 PM | Permalink


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No racial subtext to "baby mama" or "you guys"? What planet is that judge from? Well done by the majority.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 24, 2009 4:38:10 PM

The Supreme Court was unanimous this week in finding the court of appeals "baby mama" judges made it all up. Although the concurrence used a slightly different standard, they too found that a "reasonable person" would not feel race played any role in the sentencing. A common sense decison using long-established Wisconsin case law reversing two agenda-driven, irrelevant appellate judges.


Posted by: criminallaw | Jul 18, 2010 10:43:48 PM

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