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Alabama judge suspended after mocking Asian accent in the courtroom

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association said Judge James Patterson’s alleged racism in the courtroom chips away at faith in the judicial system. 
Image: Judge James Patterson, a judge for the Mobile County Circuit Court has been suspended.
Judge James Patterson, a judge for the Mobile County Circuit Court, has been suspended. via Mobile Alabama Court

An Alabama judge was suspended after he allegedly mocked an Asian accent in the courtroom and repeatedly belittled Gov. Kay Ivey, referring to her as “Governor MeMaw.” 

Mobile County’s 13th Circuit Judge James T. Patterson, a Republican who was elected in 2016, has faced backlash from staffers and court reporters. They reported that his behavior on the bench was bad enough to erode faith in the judicial system, according to a complaint filed in mid-June by the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission

He was suspended late last month and was charged with inappropriate demeanor and abuse of judicial authority.

“Judge Patterson’s conduct has degraded the public’s confidence in the integrity, dignity, and decorum of the judiciary and brought the judicial office into disrepute,” the complaint said.

Gov. Kay Ivey
Gov. Kay Ivey speaks to supporters after winning the Republican nomination for governor of Alabama at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery, Ala., on June 5, 2018.Butch Dill / AP file

When addressing potential jurors in August 2019, commission investigators say Patterson mocked an Asian accent and asked if everyone spoke English after he saw an Asian American in the group. The judge later released a statement in which he apologized and addressed his “direct” manner of speaking. 

“The liberals call everyone they disagree with a racist nowadays,” the statement said. “I am nothing of the kind.” 

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association denounced Patterson’s racism in a statement to NBC News.

“Judges hold positions of great responsibility and Judge Patterson’s comments and actions mocking a jurist’s accent are inappropriate,” executive director Priya Purandare said. “We expect judges to uphold the highest standard of conduct as they sit at the pinnacle of our legal system, but this incident perpetuates harmful stereotypes about Asian communities and contributes to the distrust of the impartiality of our legal system.”

Patterson tended to spew curse words in the courtroom, the complaint said, including making jokes about sexual assault that happens in prison, and calling a presiding judge a “goddamn snowflake.”

He also allegedly made repeated sexist and ageist jokes about Gov. Ivey, even after he was asked to stop, the complaint said. In an early pandemic email, the judge sent an email referring to Ivey as “Gov. MeMaw.” He later wrote in a letter of apology that it was a “poor attempt at humor in the midst of this Covid-19 mess,” but investigators say he continued to use that term after that. 

Patterson did not respond to a request for comment.