Friday, May 17, 2013

TOP STORY >> Judge’s remark in court blasted

Leader staff writer

The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission reprimanded Jacksonville District Judge Robert Batton on Friday for racially insensitive comments he made during an August traffic-court case.

According to the commission’s report, Batton told repeat offender Glen Thomas, “You’re racist, and I’ll let the world know it too.”

The judge also said, “There goes another angry black man” after Thomas left the courtroom, the report states.

The judge admitted to the commission that his comments were not “right or proper,” but he added that Thomas provokes frustration when he appears in court, according to the report.

Gwendolyn Harper, president of the Jacksonville National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the chapter felt the reprimand was appropriate. The group will not pursue further action against the judge.

Harper added, “I’m not surprised at his behavior at all. He’s not a very nice person.”

Batton, whose court will be monitored for 18 months, did not return a call from The Leader on Friday. He has been on the bench for 36 years.

Batton won re-election by four votes in May 2012. Batton said then that he planned to retire when his term ends in 2016.

His opponent was attorney Marshall Nash, who is black. It was a heated campaign fueled by racial tensions and accusations that Batton was part of a good ol’ boy system.

The result of the reprimand is that random observers will monitor Batton’s court for the next 18 months. New allegations could be filed if they report that the judge has violated the code of conduct again.

The commission determined that Batton did not promote public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; did not avoid impropriety or the appearance of it; engaged in bias, prejudice or harassment; and was not patient, dignified and courteous.

The report said the commission did not recommend more serious consequences — public charges or a disciplinary hearing — because Batton admitted to violating the code of conduct and is committed to being more aware of such issues.

Batton also told the commission that he wants to prove to those in court that he is not prejudiced against black people, the report states.

Thomas, the defendant, was charged with driving on a suspended license. The report states that he was arguing with his attorney loudly enough for the whole room to hear.

Batton implied Thomas was acting foolishly and is always argumentative, according to the report.

Before the judge called him a racist, Thomas said, “This always happens to minorities,” the report states.

It also states that Thomas mentioned previous complaints to the commission and Batton responded, “Did they throw that out?”

Batton brought up Thomas’ personal life later on in the heated exchange, according to the report.

Thomas asked Batton to recuse himself from the case, the report states.

Batton rescheduled the case for the following month.

During the May 2012 campaign, Nash told The Leader that a judge must avoid the appearance of impropriety and treat everyone fairly. He also said he was committed to running the court with honor, dignity and respect.

Batton told The Leader, in an article following the one with Nash’s comments, “I have no prejudice or bias and do not succumb to external influences that would prevent me from correctly applying the law to the facts of the situations.”

Batton also told The Leader his background and knowledge of the law allowed him to “serve the people of our community impartially and fairly.”