DA Launches Review of All Cases That Louisiana Judge Prosecuted in the 1990s After She Was Suspended for Using N-Word
Snejana Farberov, Daily Mail, December 21, 2021
New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams has ordered a complete review of all cases handled by disgraced Judge Michelle Odinet during her time as a prosecutor nearly 30 years ago, after she was caught on video repeatedly using the n-word.
Odinet, who has served as a Lafayette City Court judge for just a year, has been suspended from the bench without pay in the wake of the scandal sparked by the footage.
The short recording caused widespread uproar, earned a mention on Saturday Night Live and prompted Governor John Bel Edwards to call for Odinet’s resignation. It shows a TV set at her home displaying security footage of what appears to be a thwarted burglary.
Laughter and racist slurs are heard from the viewers – who are not visible on camera – as they watch two people capture the suspect, who is black.
On the recording, one of Odinet’s children says, ‘And mom’s yelling n****r, n****r,’ to which the Republican judge responds: ‘We have a n****r. It’s a n****r, like a roach.’
Odinet’s lawyer, Dane Ciolinio, confirmed that the judge used a racial slur. Ciolino said the 52-year-old judge feels ‘humiliated, embarrassed, and sorry’ for the harm she caused the community.
In announcing the review of Odinet’s old cases on Monday, Williams called the language heard in the video ‘deeply concerning to any person who genuinely cares about fair outcomes in our criminal system,’ Nola.com reported.
Williams’ statement went on to say that ‘no act, including a criminal act, justifies the denial of basic dignity inherent in the language used by Judge Odinet. That a judge and former prosecutor so comfortably employed a racial epithet serves as a telling reminder that the attitudes which fostered mass incarceration continue to undermine our pursuit of equal justice.
‘Moreover, the casual dehumanization displayed by Judge Odinet raises serious questions about her impartiality and the presence of bias and discrimination in her work on the bench and during her time as a prosecutor.
Odinet, a member of a prominent New Orleans family of doctors, lawyers and philanthropists, served as a prosecutor and assistant district attorney in Orleans Parish in the 1990s under her maiden name, Michelle Miller.
During her two-year tenure in the office of District Attorney Harry Connick, she helped successfully prosecute Robert Graves, who carried out a deadly stabbing rampage in the French Quarter, in 1995.
Later that same year, she married Dr. Kenneth Odinet Jr and moved to Lafayette, where she joined a private legal practice.
Odinet Jr, who comes from an influential and politically connected family, currently serves as the Lafayette Parish Coroner, and he also runs a plastic surgery clinic. He and Michelle have two sets of twins.
It was not immediately clear how many cases Odinet prosecuted during her time in the Orleans Parish DA’s Office, which would now have to be reviewed.
Williams’ announcement comes after widespread condemnation from local officials, including the Lafayette City Marshal and the president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
‘If something happens in your house, you are responsible for it,’ City Marshal Reggie Thomas told KLAF. ‘When something like that is said from a leader, then it has to be addressed.’
The full video had shown Odinet and her family laughing as they watched the footage with other members making racist and vulgar comments.
Suspect Ronald Handy, 59, who is black, was arrested and charged with two counts of simple burglary and is being held at Lafayette Parish Jail on $10,000 bond.
Handy was seen being detained by two members of the Odinet family on the front lawn of their home in Lafayette during the attempted burglary.
Odinet confirmed that the video was recorded in her home but said she had taken a sedative at the time and had ‘zero recollection of the video and the disturbing language used during it.’
‘My children and I were the victim of an armed burglary at our home,’ she told The Current.
‘The police were called and the assailant was arrested. The incident shook me to my core and my mental state was fragile.’
‘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.’
Handy, however, was not found with a weapon at the time of his arrest.
Gov Edwards, a Democrat, said Odinet should step down.
‘There’s no place for that kind of language, especially among members of the judiciary who have the most important role in administering justice in our state,’ he said when asked about the video.
‘If she were not to resign, perhaps all of the litigants before her who were African American would seek her recusal, and I’m not sure that she has a valid basis for denying that recusal and so there is no efficient administration of justice if she stays on the bench,’ he said.
‘So, it would be my hope that this period of reflection that she’s going through will lead her to that same conclusion.’
Some 100 private citizens and community organizers have filed complaints against Odinet with the Louisiana Judiciary Commission.
The Louisiana Supreme Court is the only body that can remove Odinet because she holds a position that can not be recalled by the public.
In order to be removed, an investigation must be made by the Judicial Commission, which can take months.
Odinet was elected in November 2020 after winning 57 percent of the vote against candidate Jules Edwards III.
She took over the Division A seat for Judge Francie Bouillion at Lafayette City Court.