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Pennsylvania Judge Accused of Repeatedly Making Racist Remarks from Bench Resigns on Eve of Misconduct Trial

Judge Mark V. Tranquilli of Allegheny County.

On the eve of his misconduct trial before the state Judicial Conduct Board, Allegheny County Judge Mark Tranquilli resigned from the bench, his attorney told several local news outlets Tuesday evening.

Tranquilli faced six counts of judicial misconduct—almost all of which stemmed from his using racist language towards Black defendants and jurors—and was scheduled to be tried on Wednesday afternoon. Tranquilli’s attorney Matt Logue told KDKA that the judge’s resignation means the misconduct trial will no longer take place.

As previously reported by Law&Crime, Tranquilli was placed on administrative leave after former public defender Joe Otte filed a complaint detailing how some of the judge’s more offensive conduct—including referring to a Black juror as “Aunt Jemima”—sparked an investigation into Tranquilli and resulted in the charges from the Court of Judicial Discipline.

The first charge stemmed from the judge presiding over a 2015 custody case in which both of the parties were Black. Tranquilli allegedly said he did not care about the parties or their children, referring to himself as a “butcher,” and told the parents he would “split [their] baby in half like Solomon and sleep like a baby at night,” according to the Court of Judicial Discipline complaint.

Discussing the issue of communication with the couple, Tranquilli “affected an accent and dialect described as ‘Ebonics,’” saying, “And when I say communication, I don’t mean ‘and den da bitch done dis, and den da bitch done dat.’”

In March 2019, the judge told a defendant that if he didn’t comply with terms of probation, he [the judge] would “cast [him] down amongst the Sodomites” in prison.

In Otte’s case, after the jury in January returned a “not guilty” verdict which Tranquilli overtly disagreed with, he called both party’s attorneys into his chambers and expressed “bewilderment” about the persons chosen to sit on the jury.

Referring to a Black female juror in her twenties who wore her hair in a kerchief during the trial, Tranquilli said to the prosecutor, “You weren’t out of strikes when you decided to put Aunt Jemima on the jury.”

After describing the juror’s physical demeanor and facial expressions, Tranquilli said the prosecutor “knew darn well that when she goes home to her baby daddy, he’s probably slinging heroin too.”

It is against the law for prosecutors to use race to strike jurors. Batson v. Kentucky held that racial strikes violate a defendant’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Otte wrote about the encounter and Tranquilli’s resignation in a Thursday post on the criminal defense blog Simple Justice.

“My friend Andy once said, ‘You know Joe is serious when he says something is bonkers.’ Andy is correct. I don’t casually invoke ‘bonkers.’ What happened that afternoon was bonkers,” Otte wrote. “However, the aftermath quickly gave way to the Judicial Conduct Board’s process, and process is delightfully boring. It’s also what sustains the rule of law. We should love it.”

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.