By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
The Seattle King County NAACP is demanding the immediate resignation of King County District Court Judge Susan Mahoney. Mahoney, who, reportedly used the N-word during a February meeting regarding the possible discipline of a court employee, resigned as Presiding Judge of King County District Court after the incident. However, the NAACP believes that her resignation is not enough, and that there is no room on the judicial bench for anyone who uses the derogatory term.
“The use of the N-word brings trauma and hurt to those that hear it,” said Seattle King County NAACP President Carolyn Riley-Payne in a letter to Mahoney asking for her resignation. “Your use of this word in a meeting with an African American staff member present, not only shows lack of sensitivity, but a blatant disrespect and disregard for those in your presence.”
“The fact that you felt comfortable enough to use this word causes great concerns about your ability to preside over cases with people of color without bias,” the letter continued.
In addition to the NAACP, several of Mahoney’s colleagues have also asked for her resignation.
King County District Judge Kristin D. Shotwell also wrote a letter asking Mahoney to resign and to take responsibility for her actions.
“I am asking you to resign your position from our bench because of your admitted use of a racial slur in a meeting with a staff member of color, as well as your subsequent actions,” said Shotwell in her letter to Mahoney. “You and I have had several conversations about this incident. You have explained the context of the comment and that your intention was not to offend. I believe you. You will recall my response was that intent is irrelevant. Using that word imputes strict liability to the speaker. That is because the effect on the listener is more important than the intent of the speaker.”
“Unfortunately, your actions after the incident have not assisted with a reckoning or healing,” Shotwell’s letter continued. “You were disingenuous when you told some judges and staff that you were stepping down as Presiding Judge for “personal reasons.” You did not accept blame or take responsibility. You kept the situation as quiet as possible. These actions have delayed a necessary reckoning.”
In another letter from Judge Marcine Anderson, Anderson acknowledges Mahoney’s initial steps to address the problematic conduct by relieving herself of her leadership duties of the court, but also believes that the gesture falls short of what is needed.
“Thank you for taking the first step to address your problematic conduct,” writes Anderson. “Which was to resign from your leadership role as Presiding Judge of the King County District Court. Our court deserves not to have the statements of one judge infect the good work that so many judges do each day.”
According to a story published on KNKX Public Radio’s website, Mahoney acknowledged using the N-word as an example of harmful hate speech in a meeting about another employee’s use of the term “Nazis.” The story went on to say that “Mahoney said she only used the full word after she detected confusion about what exactly she meant by ‘the N-word.”
Riley-Payne says that regardless of intent, the use of such a term by someone who presides over cases in court is something that can undermine the confidence that local communities, particularly the African American community, have in the judicial system and should not be taken lightly.
“Judge Mahoney your intent matters not because the mere use of the N-word undermines confidence in the judicial system. It shows bias or prejudice based on race or ethnicity which you took an oath not to do,” says Riley-Payne. “No matter the findings of the Judicial Conduct Committee, your actions have a significant negative impact on the public’s confidence and respect. How can you serve the King County community effectively? You have a long road to regaining the public trust, but for now, you must go and go now!”
In an effort to “maintain public trust and confidence” in the King County District Court system, Chief Presiding Judge Matthew York issued a statement to reaffirm the court’s commitment to equality and to ending systemic racism and bias, both explicit and implicit.
“The Judiciary has zero tolerance for racism, racist words, or discrimination of any kind,” York said in the statement. “King County District Court is responsible for providing equal access to justice for all, and our mission is to treat all persons with fairness and respect.”