A Pennsylvania judge has been suspended from hearing any further cases after he repeatedly referred to a Black juror as “Aunt Jemima.”
Mark Tranquilli, an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge, was reassigned to administrative duties on Tuesday (February 4) after a peer review. Two days later, the Allegheny Bar Association released a statement, demanding that he undergo an official investigation for his conduct on the bench.
The conduct has been criticized as offensive, racist, and unbecoming of a judge. “In remaining steadfast to the Allegheny County Bar Association’s mission and values, we have a duty to our members, our clients, and the African-American and broader communities at large, to continue to take action to eliminate implicit and explicit racial bias in our legal system,” Lori McMaster, the association's president, said in the statement.
According to defense attorney Joe Otte, Tranquilli was outraged and went on a racist diatribe after a drug suspect was acquitted last month. Prosecutor Ted Dutkowski reportedly met with Otte and the judge after the jury was dismissed and singled out one Black female juror who wore a headwrap during the full trial and berated the prosecution for not screening jurors.
“You weren’t out of strikes when you decided to put Aunt Jemima on the jury,” Dutkowski, alleges Tranquilli said to him, according to a complaint filed with the Judicial Conduct Board. “As soon as she sat down, she crossed her arms and looked like this [acts out the juror’s actions].”
There is no record of the conversation since no court reporter was present at the time.
Aside from the racist comment about the woman, Tranquilli also allegedly referred to the juror and claimed that the woman’s “baby daddy” was likely a heroin dealer, causing her to allegedly acquit the defendant.
This isn’t the first time Tranquilli’s comments have gotten him in trouble. He previously asked a prosecutor if he needed to “sober up” in a courtroom in 2005. According to the Post-Gazette, the judge later submitted a letter of apology.