(CN) – The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled to publicly reprimand former Judge Solomon C. Osborne, who was quoted as telling a predominantly black political organization that, “White folks don’t praise you unless you’re a damn fool. Unless they think they can use you. If you have your own mind and know what you’re doing, they don’t want you around.”
A local newspaper quoted Osborne making the statements in a speech before the Greenwood Voters League on Sept. 13, 2006, while he was campaigning for re-election as a county court judge for Leflore County. Osborne was allegedly referring to the white mayor’s appointment of two local black people to the Greenwood Election Commission.
His comments sparked 48 complaints with the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, which filed a formal complaint against Osborne in 2007.
Osborne denied making the statements, and said the commission’s complaint was politically and racially motivated.
After an evidentiary hearing, the committee found “clear and convincing evidence” that the judge had violated several judicial canons:
– “By making a public inflammatory, derogatory statement about all people of the white race, thereby eroding public confidence in the integrity and independence of the court.
– “By making a public spectacle of himself and thereby demeaning the prestige of the office.
– “By publicly announcing manifest bias and prejudice based on race.
– “By maintaining membership in, attending meetings, and promoting the agenda of a political organization.
– “By making an oath to an untrue, false and improper statement when Solomon C. Osborne knew his statement was untrue and false.
– “By conducting himself in a way which constitutes willful misconduct in office and conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice, bringing his judicial office into disrepute.”
The commission recommended removing Osborne from office and barring him from seeking judicial office again.
The state high court said removal “would be appropriate,” but because Osborne had resigned, the court opted to publicly reprimand him and fine him $731.89.
Justices Graves, Dickinson and Kitchens dissented in part, stressing Osborne’s constitutional rights.
The court is “constitutionally prohibited” from punishing a judicial candidate for expressing his or her views on legal and political issues, Justice Dickinson wrote.
Justice Kitchens wrote separately “to express my conviction that, where our ethical rules collide with the freedom of speech, our canons must yield to our constitutions.”
Kitchens added: “[U]nwavering fidelity to constitutional principles must always transcend and trump even the loftiest and most laudable goals and guidelines for our state judiciary.”