Judiciary

Federal judge steps down from chief judgeship after comment about Black official

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U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney has stepped down from his post as chief judge for the Central District of California because of a controversial comment that he made about a Black court official.

Carney initially thought that he was complimenting Central District executive and clerk of court Kiry Gray during a June 9 webinar, the Los Angeles Times reports.

During the webinar, sponsored by the local chapter of the Federal Bar Association, Carney discussed police protests and said it has been sad to see courthouses vandalized with graffiti. He then commented about Gray when discussing his adjustment to the chief judge’s role.

“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.

According to the Los Angeles Times, many people interpreted the “street-smart” comment “as having a derogatory and racially insensitive layer.”

In the email announcing his resignation from the chief judge’s post, Carney said he thought that the comment was positive at the time.

“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,” he wrote.

Carney compounded his problems when he spoke with Gray in a later conversation about calls for his resignation as chief judge, according to his email, sent to court staff members and judges.

“In a moment of anger and frustration, I said to Ms. Gray that the people criticizing me were equating my well-intended use of the term ‘street-smart’ with the reprehensible conduct of a police officer putting his knee on a person’s neck,” Carney said.

Carney said the statement about his critics was “an insensitive and graphic overreaction to the criticism that was leveled against me. I never should have made the comparison.”

Carney said he has apologized to Gray, “but I have concluded that a simple apology will not put this matter to rest. There will be division in the court, unnecessary, negative and hurtful publicity, and a diversion from the court’s essential mission of administering justice if I were to continue serving as the chief district judge. I cannot allow the court to become politicized and embroiled in controversy.”

Carney will continue to serve as a district judge. He is an appointee of President George W. Bush.

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