UPDATE: Late Wednesday, Michelle Odinet’s lawyer said the judge would take an unpaid leave of absence from the bench.
Odinet is “embarrassed and humiliated and sorry for what she has done and the harm she has caused to the community,” attorney Dane Ciolino told News 10.
A judge is facing calls for her resignation after a video circulating online portrayed several purported members of a Louisiana family narrating a recording of an allegedly failed car burglary. Two of the people whose voices are audible on the recording — including a woman identified as “mom” — used the N-word while describing the scene.
Though she stopped short of admitting the female voice was hers, Lafayette City Judge Michelle Odinet has confirmed that the video was recorded at her house. She also claimed she did not remember what she was doing because she had taken a sedative.
The video in question appears to be a cell phone recording of a television set on a small entertainment center. Playing on the television is what in turn appears to be a nighttime surveillance recording of the botched alleged burglary.
“And mom’s yelling, ‘N****r! N****r!'” a young man said in the footage while apparently describing and narrating the underlying incident.
“We have N****r!” a woman’s voice then said off camera while laughing and recounting the occurrence. “It’s a N****r! Like a roach.”
The camera remains trained on the television set; it does not pan to reveal who was speaking or standing in the area when the narration audio occurred.
Louisiana Judge Michelle Odinet responds to video she & her family repeatedly say the word “Nigger”
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) December 14, 2021
In a Monday report, Odinet told The Current, a Louisiana nonprofit publication, that she and her children were the victims of an “armed robbery” at their home.
“The police were called and the assailant was arrested,” she said. “The incident shook me to my core and my mental state was fragile. I was a wreck and am still unable to sleep. I was given a sedative at the time of the video. I have zero recollection of the video and the disturbing language used during it. Anyone who knows me and my husband, knows this is contrary to the way we live our lives. I am deeply sorry and ask for your forgiveness and understanding as my family and I deal with the emotional aftermath of this armed burglary.”
Ronald Handy, 59, who is Black, was arrested and charged with two counts of simple burglary in connection with the incident. Contrary to the judge’s statement, Lafayette Police Sgt. Paul Mouton said authorities did not find a weapon on the defendant at the time of arrest, according to Lafayette CBS affiliate KLFY. Handy was locked up at the Lafayette Parish Jail on $10,000 bond.
The narration in the cell phone video also indicated that the male relatives present claimed to be the people surveillance recording grabbing the then-unidentified burglar.
Odinet did not respond to a follow up request for comment to clarify if she used racist language in the footage, according to The Current. Law&Crime left a request for comment with her office.
The judge is facing calls for her resignation and accusations that she cannot be trusted to preside over cases concerning Black people and other people of color.
Michael Toussain, the president of the Lafayette chapter of the NAACP, called on the judge to resign. If the judge refused, Toussain said the Judiciary Committee of the Louisiana Supreme Court should remove the judge from office, according to a report from ABC affiliate KATC.
Toussain also asked that the Louisiana Bar Association Office of Disciplinary Council suspend the judge’s law license “for lack of character and fitness to practice in the State of Louisiana.”
He further asked that Chief Judge Douglas J. Saloom of the Lafayette City Court to use his powers as chief judge to recognize and declare that Odinet is unable to sit impartially as a judge in cases of “non-white defendants,” to consider motions to vacate rulings on traffic and criminal cases rendered by the judge, and to investigate whether racial biases impacted any of Odinet’s rulings and actions.
Politicians also voiced their concerns about the recording.
“The Lafayette community deserves and must have loyal political leadership if it is to be respected and recruit businesses and families that will ultimately call Acadiana their home,” State Senator Gerald Boudreaux (D-District 24) said in a statement obtained by KATC. “I respectfully request and will officially petition that the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana investigate the ethical conduct and actions associated with the recent developments. This situation and the comments are reprehensible, offensive and totally unacceptable from anyone serving as a judge. The comments fail to identify any form of lamentation and cast a cloud relative to the impartiality of the judge to serve as an unbiased arbitrator in cases involving African Americans.”
“As a proud black man, and the Lafayette City Marshal, I strongly believe Judge Odinet should be held accountable,” Lafayette City Marshal Reggie Thomas said. “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.”
Mayor-President Josh Guillory said he was “disgusted and appalled by the recent reports involving a local judge.”
“This type of language is hurtful, divisive, and unacceptable,” he continued. “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.”
[Image of Odinet via Lafayette City Court; screenshot of home footage via The Current]
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