COMMENTARY: Judge Odinet Must Resign over Racist Language in Video
The junior judge on the Lafayette City Court is facing calls from the Lafayette NAACP and others to resign after a video recorded in her home shows people making racist comments.
The story broke Monday afternoon after The Current and several other local media outlets received copies of the video.
Here's a quick summary of the video: The camera is pointed towards a television screen showing surveillance video of an attempted burglary. At least four voices are audible in the clip. One of them, a young male, quotes his mother as using a racial slur to refer to the burglary suspect. A woman repeats the slur and describes the suspect as being "like a roach." The same voice later uses a synonym for "anus" to describe the suspect.
Here's the video--unedited and in its entirety. Please note that it does contain offensive language.
Judge Odinet confirmed that the video was recorded in her living room. While we cannot see the faces of the people who uttered the slur, we can use other videos to infer that the adult female voice that repeats the slur is that of Judge Odinet. Here are a couple of samples.
Elsewhere in the video, a deep voice of an older male is heard in the background making comments and chuckling. By using other videos, we can infer that the voice is that of Judge Odinet's husband, Lafayette Parish Coroner Dr. Kenneth Odinet. Here's a sample of his voice to which you can compare the voice in the Odinet home video.
When asked for comment by Lafayette's media outlets, Judge Odinet sent them the following statement:
My children and I were the victim of an armed burglary at our home. The police were called and the assailant was arrested. 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.
There are a few problems with Judge Odinet's statements.
First: The statement is a non-apology apology.
Judge Odinet shifts the responsibility for her actions to the burglary suspect. Instead of asking for "forgiveness and understanding" while she and her family "deal with the emotional aftermath of this armed burglary," Judge Odinet should have asked for "forgiveness and understanding" for her failure as a leader and a mother by failing to stand up to racist language being used in her home and by repeating the racist quote attributed to her.
Second: Judge Odinet's description of the burglary is not accurate according to police and jail records.
According to the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office's inmate records, the suspect, Robert Handy, is in the Lafayette Parish Correction Center on two counts of simple burglary.
Under Louisiana Revised Statues Chapter 14 Section 62, simple burglary is defined as "unauthorized entering of any dwelling, vehicle, watercraft, or other structure, movable or immovable, or any cemetery, with the intent to commit a felony or any theft therein, other than as set forth in R.S. 14:60."
Revised Statue 14:60 outlines the definition of aggravated burglary, which is burglary in which the suspect "is armed with a dangerous weapon," "after entering . . . arms himself with a dangerous weapon," or "commits a battery upon any person while in such place, or in entering or leaving such place."
This inaccuracy in Judge Odinet's statement problematic. At best, Judge Odinet's recollection of the event does not match the evidence collected at the scene by police investigators. At worst, Judge Odinet is intentionally distorting the record in an attempt to excuse her actions.
Third: Judge Odinet says she was "shaken to the core" by the incident and in a fragile mental state. If she were in such a fragile mental state, how could she make light of the crime perpetrated upon her and her family? How could she laugh and provide commentary while watching the video of the crime that made her "a wreck" and left her "unable to sleep?"
Judge Odinet used the "Roseanne Barr Defense" and blamed her actions on being under the influence of a sedative.
The beauty of sedatives and other downers (including alcohol) is that they have a way of helping people's real beliefs become public. If Judge Odinet used the slur while under the influence of a narcotic, there's a very good chance that word is part of her regular vocabulary. In fact, according to what her son said in the video, Judge Odinet initially used the slur while her family chased the suspect from their home before they caught him and held him for police. Judge Odinet did not say if she was on a sedative at that particular time.
Sedative or no sedative, Judge Odinet's use of the racial slur is unacceptable and inexcusable, especially for an elected official who has a mandate to rule on matters of law irrespective of the races, colors, and creeds of the people who stand before her bench. Her and her husband's refusal to stand up to their son when he repeated is also inexcusable considering their positions as elected public officials.
There is no question: Dr. Kenneth Odinet owes the public an apology for not condemning his wife's and his son's words. As an elected official, he should have immediately put a stop to the racist language uttered inside his home.
There is also no question: Judge Michelle Odinet must resign from the Lafayette City Court immediately. This incident has raised grave concerns about her ability to be impartial. Should she decide to remain in office, her presence on the bench would cause division in the community. In addition, her continued presence on the bench would likely result in an investigation and possible disciplinary action by the Supreme Court of Louisiana.
Judge Odinet has a choice to make. Let's hope that she makes the best choice for the the city of Lafayette, its residents, and its judicial system.