The Implications of a Racist Joke Emailed From the Bench

Posted on March 10, 2012 by

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In this age of high-tech media, we have seen a slew of stories about politicians using poor judgment, such as sharing semi-nude photos of themselves on Twitter and Facebook or soliciting “companionship” on Craigslist. Regardless of how boneheaded these decisions may be (pardon the pun), they don’t disturb me nearly as much as the latest news story that outlined how Judge Richard Cebull forwarded an email which included a racist joke involving bestiality and President Obama’s mother.

Yes, you read that correctly. Beyond the cringe-worthiness of Judge Ceball’s apparent lack of good judgment, the implications for the legal system are very troubling.

Here’s why:

Courtrooms are busy places. The dockets are full five days a week and while the revolving doors of justice undoubtedly do include all walks of life, they most often admit people who fall into the following categories: poor, young, minority, males. What’s more, judges have to make decisions about both guilt and sentencing with incomplete information. Usually, all they have time to review is the defendant’s prior record and the circumstances of the offense. That leaves a lot of room for the judge’s personal assessment of whether he thinks that the defendant poses a risk to society.

So what does that mean? That means that if a judge has racist tendencies, he is far more likely to determine that minority defendants are threats to society (and thus more often guilty and requiring longer sentences) than other defendants that he may come across in his courtroom. So while Judge Ceball’s defense that he is not racist, but simply an Obama-hater may be true, stories like this are a solid reminder of the fact that judges are not icons of justice, but fallible humans like the rest of us who may sometimes err on the side of stereotypes and misjudgment.

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