Judge Michelle Odinet, a city court jurist in Lafayette, Louisiana, is on a leave of absence after a video emerged on Tuesday in which she and family members repeatedly use the N-word.
The clip, apparently recorded by one of Odinet’s sons, shows the judge and her family watching footage from their home security system and using racist language to describe a would-be burglar who’s accused of trying to break in.
The family seems to be recounting their experience of the burglary for the camera when one of her sons says, “Mom [was] yelling ‘n——r, n——r!’” The judge is heard laughing and saying, “[I said] ‘we have a n——r! It’s a n——r,’ like a roach.”
On Thursday, Odinet’s attorney said she was taking an unpaid, indefinite leave of absence from her position. Meanwhile, critics are calling for her resignation and a reexamination of the cases she decided as a city court judge.
Judge Claims ‘Zero Recollection’ of Racist Language
Odinet did not deny the video’s authenticity but told KLFY that she was under the influence of drugs and does not remember using the slur.
“I was given a sedative at the time of the video. I have zero recollection of the video and the disturbing language used during it,” she told reporters. Odinet did not explain who gave her a “sedative” or why.
The judge said she was deeply disturbed by the attempted break-in and implied that that was why she shouted the N-word twice.
“My children and I were the victim[s] of an armed burglary at our home,” she said. “The police were called and the assailant was arrested. The incident shook me to my core and my mental state was fragile […] I was a wreck and am still unable to sleep.”
She continued: “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.”
Lafayette police confirmed they arrested 59-year-old Ronald Handy on two counts of simple burglary early Saturday morning. He’s in custody at the parish jail on $10,000 bond, according to reports.
Though Judge Odinet repeatedly said that Handy was armed, authorities told local outlets they found no weapon in his possession during his arrest.
It’s not immediately clear who leaked the video or where it first appeared online.
Judge Michelle Odinet Must Resign, Say Critics
The judge’s racist language was roundly condemned on social media after the video went viral on Tuesday. Critics are calling for the 52-year-old jurist to resign, and for her previous rulings from the bench to be reexamined in light of her use of hate speech.
“We call now for her immediate and uncompromising resignation,” said Lafayette NAACP Chapter President Michael Toussaint. “Failing [the] same, we demand a swift and immediate act by the Judiciary Committee of the Louisiana Supreme Court, removing her from office.”
The state legislature’s Black Caucus issued a statement Tuesday, saying Odinet showed “immense racial bias and insensitivity” and echoed calls for her ouster.
“It does not matter that she was in her private capacity,” said caucus chair Edward “Ted” James. as black a robe can never hide what’s obviously in her heart.”
Odinet was elected to the bench in 2020, and is likely there to stay unless she resigns, according to The Daily Advertiser. Under Louisiana law, elected judges cannot be recalled by voters in the middle of their term.
They can only be removed by the state Supreme Court Judicial Committee following an investigation, which often takes years. What’s more, the court must find that a judge showed “persistent and public” prejudice to remove them from the bench — with only one video as evidence, that bar may be too high for investigators to clear.