State Commission Recommends Penalty for Mississippi Judge's Extreme Anti-Gay Bias

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Recommendation is one of the first of its kind in the Southern U.S.
December 21, 2002

(Atlanta, Friday, December 20, 2002) - A state commission on judicial conduct today recommended that the Mississippi Supreme Court penalize a local judge who publicly advocated that gays and lesbians should be institutionalized. The recommendation is in response to an ethics complaint Lambda Legal filed with the commission earlier this year, saying that the judge’s comments clearly violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct and indicated that he would not decide cases involving gays and lesbians fairly and impartially.

Today’s recommendation marks only the second time that a judicial commission in the South has recommended penalizing a judge for anti-gay bias and is the first such recommendation in Mississippi. Mississippi and a growing number of states explicitly include sexual orientation in their codes of conduct that prohibit judges from demeaning people based on gender, race, religion and other factors.

“This is a significant step forward for Mississippi and for the South,” said Greg Nevins, the staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office handling the ethics complaint on behalf of Equality Mississippi, a statewide gay civil rights group. “Judges are duty-bound to give a fair hearing to everyone, and these kinds of extremely homophobic statements make gays and lesbians, who often face an uphill battle for equality, feel that the justice system is closed off to them.”

In March, Mississippi Justice Court Judge Connie Wilkerson wrote a letter to the editor published in the George County Times, saying: “In my opinion, gays and lesbians should be put in some type of mental institute instead of having a [domestic partnership] law like this passed for them.” Judge Wilkerson was referring to an Associated Press article about the ability of gay and lesbian survivors to sue for the wrongful death of their partners. “I got sick on my stomach as I read the news story…,” he wrote. The judge invoked the Bible and Romans 1:32, which suggests that those who break God’s law “are worthy of death.” A right-wing Christian organization, American Family Association’s Center for Law and Policy, is defending Judge Wilkerson in the proceedings around the ethics complaint.

Today’s recommendation from the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance asks the state Supreme Court to publicly reprimand Judge Wilkerson and fine him $150 for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. In early 2002, the Mississippi Supreme Court formally amended the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct to specifically call on judges to avoid “expressions of bias or prejudice,” including demeaning remarks based on “sexual orientation.”

“We are thrilled that the Commission on Judicial performance is making a public statement that the state will not stand for officials expressing bias or prejudice against any group of people,” said Jody Renaldo, Executive Director of Equality Mississippi. “This is a very important step for the civil rights of gays and lesbians in Mississippi.”

In recent years, a handful of states have reprimanded judges for anti-gay bias. The only other reprimand of a Southern judge for anti-gay bias was in Texas, where a judge was censured several years ago. Judges in Alabama, Illinois, Michigan and Delaware have also faced complaints of anti-gay bias in recent years.

Contact: In Atlanta: Greg Nevins, 404/897-1880 ext. 30
In New York: Eric Ferrero, 212/809-8585 ext. 227; 888/987-1984 (pager)

Below is the full text of Judge Wilkerson’s letter in the George County Times:

Dear Editor:

I got sick on my stomach today as I read the (AP) news story on the Dog attack on the front page of THE MISSISSIPPI PRESS and had to respond! AMERICA IS IN TROUBLE!

I never thought that we would see the day when such would be here in AMERICA.

The last verse of chapter one of the book of Romans in our HOLY BIBLE is my reason for responding and sounding the alarm to this. You need to know as I know that God in Heaven is not pleased with this, and I am sounding the alarm that I, for one, am against it and want our LORD to see and hear me say I am against it.

I am sorry that the California Legislature enacted a law granting gay partners the same right to sue as spouses or family members. Also, that Hawaii and Vermont have enacted such a law, too. In my opinion, gays and lesbians should be put in some type of a mental institute instead of having a law like this passed for them.

I don’t know, but I believe if we vote for folks that are for this we have to stand in the judgment of GOD the same as them. I am thankful for our Legislators and pray for wisdom for them, on such unbelievable legislation as this. May GOD bless each one of them in JESUS CHRIST’s name I pray!

Thank you for printing this.

Connie Glenn Wilkerson



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