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A Louisiana judge, who was allegedly caught on camera using the N-word during an attempted burglary of her home, will take only an unpaid leave of absence from work despite growing calls for her resignation.
Lafayette city judge Judge Michelle Odinet will temporarily step down following the racial scandal, according to a statement from her legal team.
“She is humiliated, embarrassed and sorry for what she’s done and the trouble she’s caused to the community,” her attorney, Dane Ciolino, told Oxygen.com by email on Thursday. "Tomorrow, she’s going on interim leave without pay. And as far as what'll happen in the longer term, she’ll have to deal with that in the weeks to come.”
On Dec. 11, Lafayette police officers responded to Odinet’s home in the 300 block of Beverly Drive at approximately 2 a.m. after reports of an attempted car burglary.
A Ford F-250 and a Lexus G-35 parked in the driveway had been broken into, according to a police incident report obtained by Oxygen.com.
“The victim observed the suspect leaving the interior of his vehicle while returning home,” Lafayette Police Department said the incident summary. “When the suspect observed the victim arrive, the suspect attempted to flee on foot but was quickly caught by the victim.”
“Victim held the suspect down until officers arrived,” it concluded.
Upon arrival, police arrested 59-year-old Robert Handy, who had been detained on-scene by family members.
Handy was charged with two counts of simple burglary and booked into a Lafayette Parish detention center on Dec. 11, according to online jail records. He’s being held on $10,000 bond.
A video emerged later in the week of a series of racist remarks made by unidentified individuals in Odinet’s home following the attempted burglary. The short clip was leaked to local media by an unknown source.
In the recording, purported members of Odinet’s family members huddle around a flat screen television and gleefully watch CCTV footage of the botched burglary. A number of unidentified voices can be heard excitedly narrating Handy’s capture while casually using racial slurs about the suspected thief, according to Lafayette-based digital news outlet The Current, which obtained the video
There are no faces visible in the 1-minute recording, so the individuals speakers cannot be identified.
Another woman’s voice then says, “The dude had a phone on him,” adding, “I should have taken his phone from him, that f-----g a--hole.”
An off-camera speaker later refers to someone as “Mom” several times.
“And Mom’s yelling [N-word], [N-word],” a male shouts, to which another woman responds, “We have a [N-word], it’s a [N-word], like a roach.”
Odinet has since confirmed both the recording’s authenticity and that it was filmed in her home. The now-embattled judge, who described the attempted burglary as “horrific,” claimed she was on a sedative at the time of the video’s recording and has no recollection of it being filmed.
“The incident shook me to my core and my mental state was fragile,” Odinet said in a text statement she sent to the Current. “I was a wreck and am still unable to sleep…I have zero recollection of the video and the disturbing language used during it. 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.”
Odinet referred to the incident as an “armed burglary,” in her statement, but a spokesperson for the Lafayette Police Department stated that no weapon was recovered from the scene or was found to be in Handy’s possession.
The leaked video has drawn widespread condemnation from civil rights groups, anti-hate organizations and other political leaders across the state. The Republican Odinet was elected as a judge of Lafayette City Court’s Division A in 2020 and previously served as a criminal prosecutor for the Orleans and Lafayette Parish District Attorney’s offices.
“This situation and the comments are reprehensible, offensive and totally unacceptable from anyone serving as a judge,” Gerald Boudreaux, a Louisiana state senator for District 24, said in a statement. “The comments fail to identify any form of lamentation and cast a cloud relative to the impartiality of the judge to serve as an unbiased arbitrator in cases involving African Americans.”
“The comments expressed by Judge Odinet, the cavalier nature by which they were expressed and her seemingly inability to recognize the severity of the comments and acceptance of responsibility raise serious concerns as to her ability to render fair and impartial justice to people of color and undermines public confidence in the judicial system,” Glenn Lazard, a Lafayette City Council Member for District 5, also said in a statement obtained by Oxygen.com. “It is in the best interest of our community that Judge Odinet tender her resignation immediately.”
The judge’s decision to temporarily step aside led her growing chorus of Odinet’s critics to call it a slap on the write.
“Unpaid leave was one obvious and immediate step, but it does not address the deep fears that Black people have about her judgement and racism,” the Urban League of Louisiana added in a statement sent to Oxygen.com.
Many are now calling for an investigation by the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana.
“While Judge Odinet's decision is important for her own self-reflection, whether her troubling bias has impacted the lives of people in her courtroom or her ability to serve as an impartial adjudicator must be examined by the Judiciary Commission of Louisiana,” Aaron Ahlquist, a policy director for the Anti-Defamation League’s Southern Division, said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com.
A spokesperson for the Judiciary Commission didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment regarding a possible investigation into Odinet on Thursday.
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