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Ethan Bronner l Complaint Accuses U.S. Judge in Texas of Racial Bias l NYT l 6.4.13

Ethan Bronner l Complaint Accuses U.S. Judge in Texas of Racial Bias l NYT l 6.4.13

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Historia Chicana 
10 June 2013
 
 
New York Time
 
URL:
Accessed: 10 June 2013
 
Complaint Accuses U.S. Judge in Texas of Racial Bia
 
By Ethan Bronner
Published: June 4, 2013
 
Associated Press
 
Judge Edith H. Jones.
 
A group of civil rights organizations and legal ethicists filed a complaint of misconduct against a senior federal judge on Tuesday, alleging that recent remarksof hers showed bias against minority groups and an inappropriate religious belief in the death penalty.
 
 
The complaint, against Judge Edith H. Jones of Houston, who sits on the UnitedStates Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, asserts that at a speech at the Universityof Pennsylvania Law School in February she said that blacks and Hispanics weremore prone than others to commit violent crimes and that a death sentence was aservice to defendants because it allowed them to make peace with God.The complaint is signed by representatives of, among others, the League of UnitedLatin American Citizens, the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Mexican CapitalLegal Assistance Program and cites a number of people who attended the lecture.A spokesman for the law school, Steven Barnes, said that the Federalist Society, theconservative group that hosted the speech, did not record it and that there appeared to be no transcript.A request for 
comment left with Judge Jones’s chambers in Houston was not
immediately answered.According to the complaint, Judge Jones, 64, who was nominated to the bench byPresident Ronald Reagan, and who until recently was the chief judge of the FifthCircuit and mentioned during Republican administrations as a possible Supreme Court
nominee, said that “racial groups like African
-Americans and Hispanics are
 predisposed to crime.”The complaint says such statements violated the judicial code’s requirement that a
 judge be impartial and avoid damaging public confidence in the judiciary.One of the affidavits accompanying the complaint is from Marc Bookman, a veterandeath penalty lawyer in Pennsylvania, who attended the lecture. He quoted Judge
Jones as saying, “Sadl
y, some groups seem to commit more heinous crimes than
others.” When asked to elaborate, Judge Jones “noted there was no arguing that‘blacks’ and ‘Hispanics’ far outnumber ‘Anglos’ on death row and repeated that‘sadly’ people from these racial groups do get involved in more violent crime,” the
affidavit said.Mr. Bookman said in a telephone interview that when the judge was questioned by
angry students, “She defensively backed off what she had said or, at least, what the
audience had interpreted it to me
an.”
 
Another affidavit is from James M. McCormack, former chief disciplinary counsel for 
the Texas bar, who said that based on the complaint, “it is my opinion that Judge
Jones violated the ethical standards applicable to federal judges under the Code of 
Conduct for United States judges.”
Judge Jones is alleged to have said that the defenses often offered in capital cases,
including mental retardation and systemic racism, were “red herrings.” She also said,
according to the witnesses, that Mexicans would prefer to be on death row in theUnited States rather than in prison in Mexico.
Charles W. Wolfram, one of the country’s experts in legal ethics who is retired fromCornell Law School, said Judge Jones’s alleged statements were a cause of great
concern.
“If I were a parent of a black with borderline IQ accused in a capital case, would I bedistressed in knowing that Judge Jones was sitting on my case?” he asked in atelephone interview. “Yes, I would. She seems to have made up her mind on these
issues. Sh
e is slanted. That is the whole point of the impartiality requirement.”
Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics scholar at New York University, said that if JudgeJones really did say that death penalties serve the condemned by forcing them to faceGod, that was troubling.
“If a judge were to say that during sentencing, that sentence would be vacated,” hesaid. “It suggests that she believes she is helping the accused by giving a deathsentence. That is totally inappropriate.” He said the central question concern
ing her alleged statements about race and crime depended heavily on tone and context.
The fate of the complaint now lies with the circuit’s chief judge, Carl E. Stewart of 
Louisiana, the first black in the job. He could dismiss it, speak privately with JudgeJones or order an investigation and set up a committee of judges either in his circuit or another one. Most complaints against judges, many of which come from inmates, aredismissed.
A version of this article appeared in print on June 5, 2013, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: Complaint Accuses U.S. Judge in Texas of Racial Bias.
 
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Historia Chicana 
 

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