La. Supreme Court suspends Judge Odinet during probe into racist video, interim named
The Supreme Court of Louisiana has formally suspended Lafayette City Court Judge Michelle Odinet in the wake of a racist video filmed at her home over the weekend.
The court issued the order Thursday after Odinet's attorney Dane Ciolino contacted the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, which oversees judicial misconduct, to notify the commission that Odinet intended to take an unpaid leave of absence from the court to consider her path forward.
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"This was a joint consent request, so now she is on leave without pay indefinitely," Ciolino said Friday.
The court-appointed an ad hoc judge, Retired Opelousas City Court Judge Vanessa Harris, a Black woman, to preside over Odinet's cases while she is suspended.
Harris will serve until Feb. 28, subject to the completion of any "unfinished business," according to the Louisiana Supreme Court. She practiced at Harris & Harrislaw firm and served as an assistant district attorney in St. Landry Parish.
She made history in 2009 when she was elected Opelousas City Court judge, becoming the first woman and African American to serve on that bench. She retired from Opelousas City Court in December 2020.
Odinet faced several calls to resign this week, including from Gov. John Bel Edwards, after multiple people were recorded using a racist slur in a video over the weekend following a failed burglary attempt early Saturday morning.
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The video does not show any of the speakers heard during the clip, but multiple voices repeatedly say “n-----” while watching footage of the attempted burglary. Ciolino confirmed Friday that Odinet used the language heard in the video.
"Mom's yelling, n-----, n-----," a male voice says, recounting the incident while watching the security footage.
"We have a n-----. It's a n-----, like a roach," a female voice adds.
Candidate for Lafayette City Court Judge, Michelle Odinet qualifying for the November election at the Clerk of Courts office in downtown Lafayette, La. Wednesday, July 22, 2020.
Ciolino said he spoke to Odinet Friday morning and they will consider her options going forward in the coming weeks.
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She certainly understands the issues and is glad that now she can let a judge preside over that division without any issues," he said. "She's going to make long-term decisions after she's had a chance after the holidays to meet with me."
Two Black defendants have already filed motions to have Odinet recused from their cases, arguing the video shows Odinet is “prejudiced and bias (sic) against African Americans.”
Recusals:Two Black defendants want Lafayette Judge Odinet off cases after racist video surfaces
The court ordered that Odinet be "hereby disqualified from exercising judicial functions, without salary, during the pendency of further proceedings in these matters."
Associate Justice Jefferson Hughes III, of Walker, was the only member of the seven-justice court to dissent to Odinet's suspension.
"While I condemn the language reported in the media, at this point all we have are media reports. I would like to see some hard facts as to who said what and when. This situation did not happen in a vacuum," Hughes wrote.