Pittsburgh Judge Embroiled in ‘Aunt Jemima’ Scandal Suspended

PITTSBURGH (CN) — A Pennsylvania courthouse took one of its judges off the bench Thursday, following allegations that he repeatedly referred to a black female juror as “Aunt Jemima” in his chambers.

Judge Mark Tranquilli is assigned to “administrative duties only,” effective immediately, according to the brief order signed Thursday by Presiding Judge Kim Berkeley Clark of the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

Allegheny County building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Bill Girdner photo/CNS)

The move comes after defense attorney Joe Otte filed a complaint with the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania over comments that Tranquilli allegedly made in his chambers on Jan. 24 after a defendant accused of drug offenses was acquitted. Prosecutor Ted Dutkowski is said to have been present for the remarks as well.

“He immediately expressed his dissatisfaction with the jury,” Otte’s complaint states, as first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The judge then said that Ted had made a terrible decision by allowing ‘Aunt Jemima’ on the jury. The juror, juror number 4, was a young Black woman who had worn a head wrap.”

Otte also alleged that Tranquilli had said the juror probably had a heroin-dealing “baby daddy” at home.

Lori McMaster, president of the Allegheny County Bar Association, issued a statement Thursday saying that Tranquilli’s suspension fell in line with 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,” McMaster wrote. “As such, the ACBA is demanding a complete investigation by the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania of Judge Tranquilli’s alleged communications to ensure that this matter receives prompt attention and a just resolution.”

The suspension took place after the Black Political Empowerment Project in Pittsburgh called for such action Wednesday night, writing to Allegheny County President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark that: “With his racist views on record he need not be in position to judge anyone or anything.”

Tranquilli was first elected as a Common Pleas judge in 2013. Prior to that he served as a prosecutor under District Attorney Stephen Zappala.

Tranquilli did not immediately return a call requesting comment. Otte did not immediately return an email requesting comment.

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