Chief Federal Judge in L.A. Steps Down Over Racially Insensitive Comments About Black Court Official
Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2020
The chief judge for the Central District of California, the nation’s largest federal court jurisdiction, which includes Los Angeles and its neighboring counties, has stepped down from that post, citing his racially insensitive comments regarding the court’s top administrative official, a Black woman.
U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney, who began a four-year term as chief district judge June 1, announced his decision to step down from the top post but remain a judge in an email Friday to court staff and fellow judges, and offered a public apology to Kiry K. Gray.
The controversy erupted around the time of a June 9 webinar sponsored by the local chapter of the Federal Bar Assn.
“It’s been sad, quite frankly, seeing our courthouses vandalized with graffiti,” Carney said in the webinar.
When Carney began discussing his adjusting to the role of chief district judge, his comments turned to Gray.
“Fortunately for me, we have just a fabulous clerk of the court in Kiry Gray. She’s so street-smart and really knows her job,” Carney said.
Several who heard the “street-smart” comment or learned of the remarks afterward interpreted the compliment as having a derogatory and racially insensitive layer, and Carney acknowledged that judges, court staff and attorneys were upset.
The judge sought to explain himself: “To me, the term means a person of great common sense, initiative, and ability to work with people and get things done. It saddened me greatly to learn that some people view the term to be demeaning to people of color. I never knew that there was a different definition of the term.”
Carney made a second comment to Gray during a later conversation with her. Carney said that during the conversation, he learned that some found his “street-smart” remark to warrant his stepping down as chief district judge.
Carney did not include the exact quote, but he apologized: “My statement was wrong. It was directed at my critics, not Ms. Gray, and I said it with no ill will or disrespect towards people of color. My statement was an insensitive and graphic overreaction to the criticism that was leveled against me. I never should have made the comparison.”