A Los Angeles County criminal judge who made a remark referencing the Ku Klux Klan in a case involving two African American defendants was publicly admonished Wednesday by a state agency overseeing judges' discipline.
Judge Harvey Giss of the San Fernando courthouse made the comments last July during an off-the-record discussion with attorneys about a possible plea agreement in the case, according to the state Commission on Judicial Performance.
DOCUMENT: Read the public admonishment
Neither of the defendants were present, but a family member was in the courtroom, according to the commission. Giss told the commission he remarked that the only thing that would make the defendants agree to a plea was for the judge to "come out in a white sheet and a pointy white hat," according to the panel's statement of facts.
Two days later, when the defense asked the judge to recuse himself because of the remark, Giss conceded that he had made a "bad statement" but said, "People don't have a sense of humor anymore," according to the statement of facts.
Giss, a former deputy district attorney who has been on the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench since April 2001, eventually withdrew from the case.
The commission concluded that the judge’s comments constituted failure to refrain from speech that could be perceived as bias or prejudice, failure to be dignified and courteous to litigants and lawyers, and failure to avoid impropriety.
"Judge Giss should have known that his insensitive courtroom reference to a history of violence towards persons of the defendants' ancestry, whether intended to make a valid point regarding his role as a judge or in jest, was offensive and inappropriate," the commission found.