Lafayette citizens and community organizers are filing complaints against Judge Michelle Odinet, and criminal defense attorneys are asking her to recuse herself from the cases of their defendants after racial slurs were captured in a video recorded inside the judge’s home was circulated on Monday.
“The community has no faith in her being able to deliberate justice fairly,” said Ravis Martinez, a Lafayette small-business owner who filed a complaint to the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana to investigate Odinet’s behavior. “We need to hold our leaders accountable when they make serious missteps like that. If I had to go to court this morning, and I were Black, how would I feel to be judged by her?”
On the video, Odinet’s family gathered to watch home security footage of an attempted burglary that took place Saturday in their driveway. Family members shout the N-word multiple times and make other racial comments toward the man accused of breaking into a car.
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The clip, where a voice is heard saying, “And mom’s yelling n-----, n-----,” to which another female voice answered: “We have a n-----, It’s a n-----, like a roach,” also prompted at least one criminal defense attorney to ask the judge to recuse herself from their cases.
“We filed a motion this morning to ask Judge Odinet to recuse herself from the case of one of our defendants,” said Allyson Prejean, an attorney who works for Barry Sallinger Law. The case involves De’Edrick Lawrence, who was placed on two years of supervised probation by Judge Odinet in September. Prejean said that the firm is reviewing all other cases related to their clients. Prejean said the firs is considering filing further motions related to other defendants.
The calls for Odinet’s resignation grew louder Tuesday as community leaders, state and local officials complained about the video and her response to it.
“We call for the resignation of Judge Odinet as her comments show immense racial bias and insensitivity,” the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus said in a prepared statement.
Racial slurs have been captured in a video recorded inside the home of Lafayette City Court Judge Michelle Odinet as her family gathered to wa…
“In the event she doesn't resign, we request that the Louisiana Judiciary Commission Immediately appoint an ad hoc judge to hear cases in her division, investigate this incident and ultimately remove her.”
In the statement, Edward ‘Ted’ James, chairman of the caucus called Odinet’s behavior “dangerous as she oversees a vast amount of cases in her Judiciary, that include African-Americans who appear before her in court, in the city of Lafayette.” He added, “a sitting Judge should not use any racial slurs or show bias against any specific group of individuals.”
It’s not clear who recorded the clip or who is speaking. But in a text message sent to The Acadiana Advocate on Tuesday morning, Odinet said she had “zero recollection of the video" and the disturbing language used on it. She asked for “understanding, forgiveness, patience, and prayers” for her and her son, adding that “the situation highlighted and confirmed a suspected substance abuse issue our son is having.”
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Lafayette City Marshal Reggie Thomas called for Odinet to be "held accountable” for the words on the video.
“I’m sure that people of color will find it impossible to trust that they will be treated fairly and equally when they have to stand for judgment before Judge Odinet,” he said. “This type of language cannot be accepted or tolerated by anyone, especially those who serve as leaders in our city.
“It is up to Judge Odinet to remember the oath she took, and should she remain on the bench, find a way to gain back the trust of 'all' of Lafayette, especially African Americans. A mere ineffectual and weak apology will not suffice,” Thomas said.
Sen. Gerald Boudreaux called the situation and the comments reprehensible, offensive and unacceptable from anyone serving as a judge.
"We have struggled miserably to garner public support for our judicial system at every level in this country. The political landscape has become so toxic that the negative impact has been identified and evident from the United State Supreme Court to the Lafayette City Court," Boudreaux said.
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"I can assure you that the late Judge Kaliste Saloom, Jr. did not allow and would never condone this racist discourse from any of his children, in his residence or in his neighborhood."
Boudreaux said he will also petition the judiciary commission to investigate the ethical conduct and actions associated with the incident.
The state Judiciary Commission, which will review the complaints filed by attorneys, private citizens, and community organizers, works under the state’s Supreme Court. If the commission determines the complaints have enough merit to move forward, it can ask the state's Supreme Court to suspend the judge pending further investigation.
If the commission’s investigation finds enough evidence of misconduct, it can begin hearings related to the case and eventually make a recommendation to the Supreme Court.
The entire process might take weeks or months.
“These are reprehensible comments that have to bring to her resignation,” said Matthew Humphrey, a Lafayette community organizer, who also filed a complaints and held a small protest at the Lafayette City courthouse Tuesday morning. “In any instance, this type of commentary in her home by any member of her family speaks to her bias toward the Black community and the inability to impart equal justice in her service to the city of Lafayette.”
Odinet, a Republican from Lafayette, won the seat for Division A of Lafayette City Court in November 2020, defeating Judge Jules Edwards with 57% of the vote. On Tuesday, Republican state representatives in the Acadiana delegation did not respond to requests to comment on the situation.
But Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory, a Republican, said in a statement he was “disgusted and appalled by the recent reports involving a local judge. This type of language is hurtful, divisive, and unacceptable. The fairness and objectivity of our courts are the foundation of our legal system. It is my hope that the judge will do what is best to help the community heal and move forward.”
On Tuesday evening, Alanah Odoms, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, condemned Odinet in a statement. “Judge Odinet appears to have used an abhorrent racial epithet and compared an African American person to a cockroach,” she said.
“This behavior calls into question Judge Odinet’s fitness to sit in judgment of Black defendants who appear before her court. Equal justice under the law means nothing if judges come to their duties viewing some people as subhuman.”