An Alabama probate judge accused of making racist and sexist remarks and fostering a hostile work environment must be removed from office, a state judicial ethics court said Friday in a rare and unanimous ruling.
In sanctioning Probate Judge Randy Jinks of Talladega County, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary wrote that he had violated several of the state's Canons of Judicial Ethics, guidelines directing judges to uphold the honor of the judiciary, maintain decorum and avoid impropriety.
The decision to discipline Jinks, 65, comes after a multiday hearing this month that included witness testimony, as well as character witnesses called by Jinks' defense lawyer, including former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. Among the evidence presented to the court was a recording of Jinks repeating a meme in his office about the nationwide racial unrest in 2020 in which he said, "You sons of b------ are going to need something to burn down after Trump gets re-elected for a second term, sons of b------."
"Although the complaint alleges 'racially insensitive demeanor,' this Court is of the opinion that Judge Jinks' conduct rose above racial insensitivity," the court said in its final judgment, which also ordered Jinks to pay for the costs of the proceeding.
Jinks had been suspended since the spring in the wake of more than 100 allegations first outlined in a 78-page document issued in March by the Judicial Inquiry Commission, the state body that first reviews complaints against judges. The commission then decides whether to bring the case before the Court of the Judiciary, a panel of judges, lawyers and nonlawyers appointed by the governor's office.
The commission's complaint detailed accusations of racist and sexist conversations that employees claim Jinks initiated, including talking about pornography and a video of a woman doing a striptease. Some of the employees alleged that Jinks, who is white, also made disparaging remarks about George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, Black people who came into the office and the office's sole Black employee, a clerk.
That employee, Darrius Pearson, had testified that in May 2019, when Jinks saw his new car, he said that he, as a judge, couldn't afford one but asked, "What you doing, selling drugs?"
Upon learning of the court's decision Friday, Pearson said, "My heart skipped a beat," adding that it was "important" to hold the judge accountable.
The employees also accused Jinks of using profane language and throwing tantrums, once going on a tirade after his sandwich went missing from a refrigerator, and that he tried to use the power of his position to get or grant favors.
Jinks was not accused of making offensive statements while presiding from the bench but rather in the office, at workplace settings and among employees. The Court of the Judiciary also found that Jinks had not violated ethics guidelines in every allegation made in the complaint.
As probate judge, Jinks has been the county's chief election official, overseeing adoptions and guardianships, mental health commitments and the issuing of marriage licenses. He was elected as a probate judge on the Republican ticket to a six-year term in November 2018. He does not have a legal background, which is not a requirement for probate judges in nearly all counties in Alabama.
Amanda Hardy, Jinks' attorney, said in a statement Saturday that he had never previously been accused of being racist, but "once he entered politics and became the first Republican to hold that office, that all changed."
"Judge Jinks' remarks were taken completely out of context and cast in a light calculated to besmirch the judge's character and further the accusatory employees attempts to remove him from office," Hardy said, adding that "closer scrutiny should have led to a more measured response to this case."
In a television interview in March, Jinks had denied the allegations.
"I am not saying I haven't made some errors, but the majority of these vicious, vile and vulgar accusations are nothing to fear," he told WOTM-TV. "They can say what they want, they can't hurt me."
Hardy said Jinks is deciding whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Alabama. It is extremely unusual for judges in Alabama to be removed from the bench. That happened to Roy Moore, a former state chief justice, who was ousted twice for defying federal court orders. Moore's appeals were rejected.