Posted on October 20, 2004

Offensive Racial Costume Lands Judge Before Supreme Court

AP, Oct. 19

NEW ORLEANS — A white judge who appeared at a Halloween party last year with an inmate jumpsuit, an Afro wig and black face paint goes before the Louisiana Supreme Court today, facing a possible suspension.

The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana, which investigates complaints of misconduct, has recommended a one-year suspension without pay for state District Judge Timothy Ellender of Terrebonne Parish.

Ellender, first elected to the bench in 1983, showed up at the party without the black face paint, but added it at the suggestion of his brother-in-law, who was dressed as Buckwheat from the “Little Rascals” movies.

The high court could take any number of steps against the judge, ranging from censure to removal from office.

Ellender has apologized to Houma’s black community for the costume and blamed his conduct on “mere stupidity and ignorance.” But he said the stunt does not call into question his ability to fairly preside over black people in his courtroom, as some have contended.

The Terrebonne Parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has called for Ellender’s ouster.

During a hearing before the commission, Ellender, who has said he would accept a censure, said the costume did not perpetuate the idea that black people are criminals. He wore the costume to a private party at a restaurant where, according to the commission, the judge said an integrated crowd was present. He said the makeup drew laughs.

But the restaurant was open for take-out orders and one of the restaurant employees present was a black woman, the commission said.

Ellender said the costume would have been even funnier if he had applied blue paint, because any time one adds “coloration” to a costume, “it’s going to accentuate the humorous nature of it.”

In its report, the commission called that explanation “incredulous, disingenuous and nonsensical.”

But during the hearing, Ellender said: “Don’t feel sorry for me. I did what I did, and I’m ready to suffer the consequences.”