BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The court of public opinion is weighing in a week after a Baton Rouge judge was accused of using racial slurs inside a Highland Rd. restaurant and many are varied on their opinions of the claims.
It's a six letter word that has sent shockwaves across the community. "We are here to stand in solidarity with Ms. Johnson," local NAACP president, Mike McClanahan said.
A Baton Rouge woman posted on Facebook a week ago that Baton Rouge Judge Mike Erwin allegedly hurled the "N-word" at her several times during a heated argument over a seat at Sammy's Grill on Highland Rd. The restaurant has since banned the judge, but on Monday afternoon, the accuser, Kaneitra Johnson, along with her attorneys, community activists, and a host of elected officials say they want the judge to step down immediately.
"We feel that it's impossible for Judge Erwin to serve the people of East Baton Rouge Parish in a fair and equitable manner," said Rev. Reginald Pitcher.
One of Johnson's attorneys said they are filing a formal complaint against the judge through the judiciary commission. The group wants a thorough investigation into the claims, but in the meantime, they say Erwin should be suspended. "We all have the right to be able to be heard and to be given respect and dignity by any judicial official, especially on or off the bench," said Erin Rigsby, one of Johnson's attorneys.
So far, Erwin has remained silent and on Monday, when given the opportunity to speak, Johnson declined as well. Her attorney said the matter is still too fresh.
"Honestly at this time she's a bit too emotional to address any questions," Rigsby added.
A spokesperson with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office confirmed deputies were called out to the restaurant on the night of the alleged incident, saying several people were interviewed, but no one recalled hearing the argument or the "N-word."
The race-fueled allegation has sparked a debate online with some questioning the claims, some praising Johnson for her bravery, and others bringing up a past post from 2013 where it appears Johnson herself used a version of the "N-word" on Facebook.
Less than an hour after the press conference, Johnson took to a 9News Facebook page, where it appears she defended her alleged use of the word, saying, "The word used towards me was 'n-i-*-*-e-r' which has been documented as a racial slur.. the term I used is often used in the black community."
9News reached out to Johnson's attorney to clarify her meaning of the Facebook post, but has not yet heard back. A spokesperson for the Louisiana Supreme Court released a statement to 9News saying, "We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint."
Any complaints against a Louisiana judge are filed with the Louisiana Judiciary Commission, the constitutionally created body charged with reviewing alleged judicial misconduct. By rule, all complaints, investigations, and hearings of the commission are confidential. After a complaint is filed, investigations and hearings are held if the commission feels there is misconduct of a judge. The commission will make its recommendations for judicial discipline to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
At the time the commission files its case, everything then becomes public.
Oral arguments before the court will take place where the judge may defend him or herself. Only the Supreme Court Justices can dispense discipline to a judge. Public censure, suspension with or without pay, or removal are the forms of discipline available.
Due process is the underlying principle which guides this process of review.