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Allegheny County Judge Mark Tranquilli Suspended Without Pay, Denies Calling Black Juror 'Aunt Jemima'

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Allegheny County Judge Mark Tranquilli has been suspended without pay.

According to our news partner at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline suspended the Allegheny County Common Pleas judge on Wednesday. He was charged with six counts of judicial misconduct, most of which concerned alleged racially insensitive remarks directed at jurors and defendants.

Tranquilli was previously relieved of his duties after allegedly using a racial slur against a Black juror.

KDKA first reported that after a jury acquitted a drug defendant on several charges, Tranquilli is accused of referring to the juror as "Aunt Jemima," and speculated that her "baby daddy" was probably "slinging heroin himself."

The report goes on to cite other alleged incidents of Tranquilli using the Black urban dialect, known as Ebonics, from the bench. The report cites other comments as well, like when Tranquilli told a single Black mother "if you lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas" and that she should have supplied the fathers of her two children with condoms: "for the cost of three shiny quarters in any bathroom in any rest stop In Pennsylvania, you probably could have gone in a different direction."

In its report, the board said Tranquilli's actions show "bias, prejudice and harassment," violate "decorum and ethics" and "bring the office into disrepute" as well as "undermine public confidence."


KDKA's Andy Sheehan reports Tranquilli wrote a letter to his colleagues, offering an apology and a plea for a second chance.

"I sincerely apologize for my irresponsible words and the pain caused to our community and courts. It is my hope that this process will allow me to publicly accept the responsibility I have privately felt and to eventually regain your trust," Tranquilli wrote.

In the letter, Tranquilli said he did not call the woman "Aunt Jemima" but was referring to an article of clothing in her hair to distinguish her from other jurors. Since he could not recall the word "kerchief," he referred to the juror "with the Aunt Jemima" on her head, adding "the use of that term was nonetheless wrong."

Defense attorney Carmen Robinson called Tranquilli's comments extremely hurtful and that his distinction is "splitting hairs"

"People constantly say they don't know what's in anyone's heart, I think he revealed what's in his heart," Robinson said. "There is no way to explain away his words, and the most important thing we've got to remember is he apologized, which means he means he admitted he said it."

In the letter, Tranquill did not address three other cases where he is accused of making racially insensitive remarks to Black defendants, but his letter asked for a second chance.

"Again, I apologize. I should have done better. I have done better. I can do better in the future," Tranqulli wrote.

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