A Florida judge of 30 years is hanging up the black robe after being caught calling a black attorney a “gorilla.” Reported as a quip by the Palm Beach Post, the racially insensitive remark was found to be far from funny.
On Aug. 2, Palm Beach County Judge Peter Evans had the gall to call Assistant Public Defender Sheldon Graves a gorilla. It happened so quickly Graves didn’t hear the comment says Public Defender Carey Haughwout. Graves only learned about it after an unidentified person reported Evans’ transgression to Chief Circuit Judge Krista Marx. The remark was made during early-morning plea hearings at the West County Courthouse in Belle Glade. Before his dismissal, Evans was the sole judge assigned to the courthouse in the predominantly black community.
“Whether or not it hurts the person it’s directed to is not the issue,” Haughwout said. “It harms everyone who hears it and it harms the reputation of our courts.”
Despite the judge’s comments, the hearing was allowed to continue unabated.
Marx reviewed the court recording of the hearing where the Florida judge referred to Graves as “the other gorilla defense counsel.”
“Upon learning this had occurred, I immediately contacted Judge Evans,” Marx said in a phone interview with CBS12. “He was sincerely sorry and immediately recognized that the best course of action was for him to retire immediately.”
Evans originally planned to retire in January at the end of his term but the recent comments has pushed up his resignation. He notified Governor Rick Scott of his early resignation.
Haughwout applauds Marx on her swift response to the accusation.
Graves told reporters that the Florida judge did approach him and tell him of the comment and it was a phrase he used commonly as a former wrestling coach.
“He said I reminded him of one of his wrestlers,” Graves said.
Although he doesn’t believe that Evans is a bigot, he did tell the Florida judge that the comment was inappropriate.
“I’ve been in front of him for 1 1/2 years and I never felt any racial animus,” he said. “He can be a curmudgeon. He can be a jerk. But he’s fair.”
In the video, Graves is seen talking to one of his clients. Evans summons up another defendant to keep the docket moving. It’s when the now-former judge calls Graves back to the podium to deal with the second client he mutters the words that ended his career prematurely.
In the end, Graves feels that Evans should not have had to resign over the flippant remark. It was a mistake, but a mistake the judge is now having to pay dearly for.
“I don’t like to see anyone go out like that with their reputations besmirched,” Graves said. “People are going to go around thinking he’s a racist when he’s not,” he said.