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Louisiana judge to take leave of absence after using racist language in video

Lafayette, Louisiana — A Louisiana judge is taking a leave of absence after using a racist slur in a video taken in her home, according to her lawyer. After the video surfaced online several days ago, many local leaders called for her resignation.

The video, which was posted on several social media sites, shows a television set displaying security footage of what appears to be a foiled burglary at Lafayette City Court Judge Michelle Odinet's home early Saturday. Laughter and racist slurs are heard from the viewers — who aren't visible on camera — as they watch two people capture the suspect.

On Wednesday night, Dane Ciolino, Odinet's lawyer, told CBS News that one of the voices heard in the video belongs to the judge and that she used a racist slur.

Odinet will take a leave of absence without pay, Ciolino told The Acadiana Advocate and confirmed to CBS News. "I am going to call the Judiciary Commission, and we are going to file the motion," the lawyer said.

Ciolino added that the judge feels "humiliated, embarrassed, and sorry for what she has done and the harm she has caused to the community."

Odinet had previously confirmed to local news outlets that the video was made at her home, but claimed she had taken a sedative at the time the video was made and she didn't remember it.

"I was given a sedative at the time of the video. I have zero recollection of the video and the disturbing language used during it. Anyone who knows me and my husband, knows this is contrary to the way we live our lives," Odinet said in a statement.

"We ask for your understanding, forgiveness, patience and prayers," she added. 

Odinet told the CBS affiliate KLFY-TV that she and her kids were the victims of an armed burglary.

"The police were called and the assailant was arrested. The incident shook me to my core and my mental state was fragile," she said.

KLFY reported that 59-year-old Ronald Handy, who is Black, was arrested and charged with two counts of simple burglary. He was being held in the Lafayette Parish Jail on $10,000 bond.

Lafayette Police Sgt. Paul Mouton confirmed to KLFY that no weapon was found on Handy at the time of his arrest, despite Odinet's claims that her family was the victim of an "armed burglary."

Lafayette (Louisiana) City Court Judge Michelle Odinet in undated photo. KLFY-TV

It's not clear who originally posted the video on social media. The security footage of a scene partially obscured by tree limbs appears to show at least two people capturing and holding someone.

"That's me," one viewer says while watching the security footage of the man being caught. "And Mom's yelling 'n---, n---.'" Another viewer says, "We have a n-----. It's a n-----, like a roach."

The president of the Lafayette Chapter of the NAACP, Michael Toussaint, called for Odinet's resignation.

"I have never met Judge Odinet, only heard her voice in campaign ads. But because she has confirmed that the video was in fact taken inside her home, one would think that as a sitting judge, a mother, a community leader, a person in position of authority, that she would have stepped up and taken a stand against that type of language in her own home," Toussaint said in a statement to Lafayette news outlets.

City Marshal Reggie Thomas, the first Black person to be elected to a citywide office in Lafayette, said Odinet should be held accountable for the video's racist language, saying "a mere ineffectual and weak apology will not suffice."

The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus also issued a call for Odinet to resign.

"In the event she doesn't resign, we request that the Louisiana Judiciary Commission Immediately appoint an ad hoc judge to hear cases in her division, investigate this incident and ultimately remove her," the group said in a news release.

David Begnaud contributed reporting.

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