The top federal judge in Los Angeles is stepping down from that position after he apologized for saying that the court’s top administrative official, who is a Black woman, was ‘street-smart.’
US District Judge Cormac J. Carney said he will no longer serve as chief district judge just less than a month after he began a four-year term, the Los Angeles Times reported.
He will remain a federal judge for the Central District of California, which is the nation’s largest federal court jurisdiction. Carney was appointed to the lifetime post in 2003 by then-President George W. Bush.
Carney emailed court staff and fellow judges and publicly apologized to Kiry K. Gray, who in 2015 became the first Black woman appointed to the position of executive and clerk of court for the Central District of California.
US District Judge Cormac J. Carney (left) stepped down from his position as chief judge of the Central District of California after he apologized for referring to Kiry K. Gray (right), the court’s executive clerk, as ‘street smart’
‘I have apologized to Ms. Gray, but I have concluded that a simple apology will not put this matter to rest,’ Carney wrote in the email.
‘There will be division in the Court, unnecessary, negative and hurtful publicity, and a diversion from the Court’s essential mission of administering justice if I were to continue serving as the Chief District Judge.
‘I cannot allow the Court to become politicized and embroiled in controversy.’
Carney said that Judge Philip S. Gutierrez will take over as chief district judge.
On June 9, Carney, a former Orange County Superior Court judge, was invited to speak at a webinar hosted by the Federal Bar Association.
During the webinar, Carney spoke about his plans for the court as chief judge as well as the recent protests and riots that erupted nationwide in the wake of the May 25 police-involved death of George Floyd.
‘It’s been sad, quite frankly, seeing our courthouses vandalized with graffiti,’ Carney said.
Carney made the remark during a webinar which was hosted by the Federal Bar Association on June 9
He then spoke about adjusting to the role of chief district judge. That’s when Carney mentioned Gray.
‘Fortunately for me, we have just a fabulous clerk of the court in Kiry Gray,’ he said.
‘She’s so street-smart and really knows her job.’
The judges, court staff, and lawyers who were either on the webinar or heard the remark afterwards were upset, according to the Times.
The term ‘street-smart’ was interpreted as having a negative racial connotation.
‘To me, the term means a person of great common sense, initiative, and ability to work with people and get things done,’ Carney wrote in the email.
‘It saddened me greatly to learn that some people view the term to be demeaning to people of color.
‘I never knew that there was a different definition of the term.’
Carney then said he spoke directly to Gray and told her that many were offended by his ‘street-smart’ comment and demanded that he step down as chief district judge.
‘In a moment of anger and frustration, I said to Ms. Gray that the people criticizing me were equating my well-intended use of the term “street-smart” with the reprehensible conduct of a police officer putting his knee on a person’s neck,’ Carney said in the email.
He then apologized, though he didn’t specify the exact quote.
Carney will stay on as a federal judge, a lifetime position to which he was appointed by then-President George W. Bush in 2003. He is seen right with an Armenian woman who was sworn in as a naturalized American citizen in August 2019
‘My statement was wrong,’ he said.
‘It was directed at my critics, not Ms. Gray, and I said it with no ill will or disrespect towards people of color.
‘My statement was an insensitive and graphic overreaction to the criticism that was leveled against me.
‘I never should have made the comparison.’
The nation is in the midst of a reckoning on race that has erupted since the deaths of Floyd and other unarmed Blacks who were killed either by police or armed white people, including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks.
Prominent figures in Hollywood, politics, business, the media, sports, and other segments of society have either resigned or been fired due to comments they made that some view as racist.
Black Lives Matter protesters have torn down statues and monuments honoring Confederate figures and other historical leaders who either espoused racist views or possessed slaves.
Institutions of higher learning have also scrubbed the names of past leaders from buildings and other public places in light of their controversial histories as it relates to race.