Racist Talk From Dylann Roof’s Judge

The judge who called for sympathy for shooter Dylann Roof’s family members has a history of racist language in the courtroom.

Pool Photo Reuters

Charleston County Magistrate James B. Gosnell began Friday’s bond hearing for mass-murderer Dylann Roof by declaring that the killer’s family members were victims as well.

At least he did not repeat an opinion that he offered in another proceeding a dozen years ago.

“There are four kinds of people in this world—black people, white people, red necks, and n---rs,” Gosnell advised a black defendant in a November 6, 2003 bond reduction hearing.

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The comment led to a judicial disciplinary proceeding and a 2005 determination by the state Supreme Court. The court’s written finding reports Gosnell’s lame defense.

“[Gosnell] represents he knew the defendant, the defendant’s father, and the defendant’s grandfather,” the finding notes. “[Gosnell] represents that when the defendant, an African-American, appeared in court for the bond hearing, [Gosnell] recalled a statement made to him by a veteran African American sheriff’s deputy.”

That being the four kinds of people remark.

“Gosnell alleges he repeated this statement to the defendant in an ill-considered effort to encourage him to recognize and change the path he had chosen in life,” the finding notes.

The same finding addressed a second, unrelated ethical complaint. This case suggests that Gosnell feels there was in fact a fifth kind of person in the world, that being a fellow judge.

The defendant in that case was a fellow Charleston judge, Joseph S. Mendelsohn, who had been arrested in the town of Mount Pleasant on the night of November 8, 2003 for driving under the influence and having an open container in his car.

Mendelsohn was processed at the Mount Pleasant police station and informed he would then be transported to the Charleston County Detention Center pending a bond hearing the following morning.

At the prospect of having to spend a night behind bars, Mendelsohn telephoned a Mount Pleasant judge, who essentially said that the law was the law.

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Mendelsohn then called Gosnell, and put him on the line with a Mount Pleasant police lieutenant.

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“[Gosnell] asked that Judge Mendelsohn be brought directly to bond court rather than first being booked into the detention center,” the finding reports. “The lieutenant refused to bypass the standard booking procedure, stating [Mendelsohn] would be booked like any defendant.”

Gosnell thereupon informed the lieutenant that he was heading for the detention center and would conduct a bail hearing there. Gosnell then called a court supervisor, requesting that staff be dispatched there so he could hold a hearing.

“During the conversation, [Gosnell] and [the supervisor] discussed that if a bond hearing was held at other than normal operating hours, [Gosnell] would be required to hold a bond hearing for all incarcerated defendants,” the finding says. “Respondent elected not to call in staff to hold bond hearings.”

Gosnell headed there on his own.

“[Gosnell] met the arresting officer and Judge Mendelsohn at the detention center,” the finding says. “At some point, [Gosnell] took possession of the ticket, placed a ‘bond hearing’ stamp on the back, and entered the amount of $1,002.00. When detention center officials expressed concerns over Judge Mendelsohn’s release, [Gosnell] remarked ‘this didn’t happen until 8:00 a.m.,’ or words of similar import and effect.”

The finding adds, “[Gosnell] acknowledges it was his intention to facilitate Judge Mendelsohn’s release without waiting for the morning bond hearing and to make it appear that Judge Mendelsohn’s bond was set at 8:00 a.m. in accordance with Mount Pleasant’s bond procedure.”

The finding continues, “[Gosnell] communicated his setting of the bond to the Mount Pleasant Chief Judge and asked the judge to indicate his approval of the bond. The Mount Pleasant Chief Judge called the Charleston County Detention Center and was advised that officers were in possession of a valid bond set by respondent. The Mount Pleasant Chief Judge told the officers that, since a bond had been set, the bond procedure he had established did not apply. Judge Mendelsohn was released from the Charleston County Detention Center at approximately 2:30 a.m.”

Such favoritism accompanied by the commission of judicial fraud might have been expected to cost Gosnell his lofty position.

The racist remark would seem to warrant even more serious sanctions.

Here is what the state Supreme Court decided:

“The Court deems a public reprimand appropriate. Accordingly, respondent is hereby reprimanded for his misconduct.”

As a result, Gosnell was still on the bench as Chief Magistrate on Friday. He began by declaring Charleston to be a city of “big hearts.”

“We’re a very loving community,” he said.

He proceeded to startle many of us by announcing that Roof’s family members were also victims in the case.

“There are victims on this young man’s side of the family,” Gosnell said.

But the shock of that remark was forgotten when he gave the families of the actual murder victims an opportunity to address the court. Several did so and managed to speak of forgiveness despite pain beyond imagining.

So, it would seem that we should forgive this judge for having been on the bench at all.