US Judge Kicks Muslim Woman Out of Courtroom
- Two judges scolded for behavior in court
The Washington State Commission on Judicial Conduct has admonished two
local judges, one for leading a football cheer before sentencing a man
for manslaughter and one for forcing a Muslim woman out of the
courtroom when she wouldn't take off her head scarf.
Superior Court judge Beverly Grant, who led the cheer, and Tacoma
Municipal Court judge David Ladenburg, who removed the Muslim woman,
agreed with the commission and promised not to err again.
An admonishment, written advice from the state commission overseeing
judges' behavior, is the lowest form of punishment the commission can
Reiko Callner, the commission's executive director, said neither of
the judges has had conduct problems in the past.
"The behavior in the Grant case was well-intentioned, but a misstep,"
Callner said. "The conduct did not materially affect her ruling as a
judge in the case."
With Ladenburg, "as soon as his error was pointed out, he apologized
and changed his behavior," she said.
Both judges cooperated with the commission, and Grant even filed the
formal complaint against herself.
Grant, who was appointed a judge in April 2003, was about to sentence
Steve Keo Teang for first-degree manslaughter Feb. 3. He had killed
Tino Patricelli, 28, on Feb. 5, 2005, outside a Milton tavern.
When Grant came into the courtroom, she instructed approximately 100
onlookers mostly family members of Teang and Patricelli to cheer
for the Seahawks, who were to play in the Super Bowl that weekend.
"Before you sit down, and I know this is rather unusual, but we have a
great football team today and I just wanted you to give one holler for
the Seahawks," Grant said. "So, let's say, `Go, Seahawks.' You can do
better than that. Let's try it again. One, two, three: `Go, Seahawks.'"
The story became international news.
Patricelli's stepmother said she was offended in part because the
Super Bowl would take place on the one-year anniversary of her
The following Monday, Grant publicly apologized and said she just
wanted to ease the tension in the courtroom.
"Although my intentions were to defuse the courtroom situation, I
realize now the inappropriateness of my opening comments," she
explained to the commission. "My invitation to salute the Sea-hawks
was misplaced and under the circumstances made me appear insensitive
to the victim's family, friends and supporters. I humbly apologize."
Grant and the commission agreed that she violated canons requiring
judges to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and to maintain order
and decorum in the courtroom.
The agreement states that Grant's comment was particularly
inappropriate because the case was a serious one and because the
upcoming Super Bowl was indeed the anniversary of Patricelli's death.
But the agreement says Grant's actions were spontaneous and were an
isolated incident, motivated by legitimate concerns.
Grant agreed to reread the Code of Judicial Conduct and to not repeat
her behavior in the future.
In Ladenburg's case, the commission received a complaint that he
required a Muslim woman Jan. 25 to either remove the head scarf she
wore for religious reasons or leave the courtroom.
After an investigation, the commission said Ladenburg had created an
appearance of bias or prejudice against the woman.
After the woman left, the judge explained in open court that he had
"invited many people in the past to present me some evidence" about
whether the Muslim religion forbade the removal of head coverings in
court and had concluded that there was no such prohibition.
In May, Ladenburg admitted to the commission that he had a policy that
everyone in his court must remove their head coverings unless they
could present evidence that removing them was prohibited for religious
or medical reasons. He acknowledged that he had not fully considered
that his policy might infringe upon their religious rights.
Ladenburg and the commission agreed that he violated canons requiring
judges to uphold the integrity of the judiciary, to be faithful to the
law and maintain professional competence in it and to perform duties
without bias or prejudice. Although evidence indicated Ladenburg
wasn't motivated by bias or prejudice, his ruling made him look
biased, the agreement states.
Ladenburg, who has been a judge for three years, agreed not to repeat
his conduct, to study the Code of Judicial Conduct and to compete a
course on cultural competence at his expense within a year.
"I would like to emphasize that the commission found based on
lawyers and other people who appear regularly before him that Judge
Ladenburg is fair and respectful to all people appearing in his court,
regardless of their ethnic and religious background," said Ladenburg's
attorney, Rick Creatura.
Neither Ladenburg nor Grant could be reached for comment Monday
Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660
karen.hucks @ thenewstribune.com
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