Judge accused of referring to juror as 'Aunt Jemima' should get interim suspension, commission says

  • Print.

Pennsylvania gavel

Image from Shutterstock.com.

The Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board is seeking the interim suspension of an Allegheny County judge who allegedly referred to a juror as “Aunt Jemima.”

The board sought the interim suspension of Judge Mark Tranquilli in an Aug. 12 petition—the same day that it filed ethics charges against the judge. A press release is here.

The ethics charges refer to the alleged Aunt Jemima comment, along with other alleged inappropriate comments and insulting remarks.

According to the charges, Tranquilli allegedly:

• Criticized a prosecutor in chambers over selection of jurors who acquitted a defendant on a drug dealing charge. Referring to a Black juror who wore a kerchief, Tranquilli allegedly asked the prosecutor why he put “Aunt Jemima” on the jury. Tranquilli said the juror’s demeanor showed a negative attitude toward the prosecution case. He allegedly told the prosecutor, he “knew darn well” that when the juror “goes home to her baby daddy, he’s probably slinging heroin, too.”

• During a custody conciliation, said he didn’t care about the couple’s children, his only concern was his own children, and he would “split [the couple’s] baby in half like Solomon and sleep like a baby that night.” He discussed the issue of communication between the parties, affecting an accent and dialect he described as Ebonics. “When I say communication, I don’t mean ‘and den da bitch done dis, and den da bitch done dat,’ ” he allegedly said.

• During a criminal sentencing hearing, allegedly said, “Are you familiar with the phrase, if you lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas? … So now you have laid down twice with dogs, but you have woken up with two lovely children, probably two lovely children I’m betting you were probably not planning on. And for the cost of three shiny quarters in any bathroom in any rest stop in Pennsylvania, you probably could have gone a different direction.”

• In the same sentencing hearing, allegedly commented on probation, saying, “I was a [prosecutor] for 20 years, and for the last 13 years, all I did was dead body cases, dead body, dead body, dead body. For the last eight years, I ran the homicide unit. If I had a nickel for every picture of a dead person I looked at on my desk while I was eating a turkey sandwich, I could retire right now and be a rich man. As a result of these experiences, there is no milk of human kindness left in these veins. It is just too much death. So what that means for you is, the take away is this: If I ever see you again in my courtroom for a probation violation, the story ends with you in a red jumpsuit.”

• In another sentencing hearing, told the defendant, “So if you don’t show up in 30 days, you have violated my probation, and I’m going to cast you down against the Sodomites, all right, in state prison.”

The commission says Tranquilli failed to promote public confidence in the judiciary; manifested bias or prejudice in the performance of his duties; and failed to conduct himself in a patient, dignified and courteous manner.

Tranquilli was reassigned to administrative duties earlier this year after the prosecutor complained about Tranquilli’s in-chambers conversation.

Law360, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive.com had coverage of the ethics charges.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.