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Top US judge in LA steps down over remark called insensitive

Posted at 12:24 PM, Jun 29, 2020

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The top-ranking federal judge for the Los Angeles area has told fellow judges and court staff that he is stepping down from his post because of a remark he made about a Black woman who is the court's top administrative official that some regarded as racially insensitive, the Los Angeles Times reported.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney, chief judge of the federal Central District of California, announced his decision Friday in an email that summarized his remarks, the critical reaction and his decision to leave the four-year position he had begun on June 1, the Times reported Sunday.

Carney apologized to Kiry K. Gray, who has been the district's executive and clerk of the court since 2015.

"I have apologized to Ms. Gray, but I have concluded that a simple apology will not put this matter to rest. 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," Carney wrote. "I cannot allow the Court to become politicized and embroiled in controversy."

The Times said the controversy dates to a June 9 webinar sponsored by the local chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

Carney was speaking about taking on the role of chief district judge when he mentioned Gray.

"Fortunately for me, we have just a fabulous clerk of the court in Kiry Gray. She's so street-smart and really knows her job," Carney said.

When Carney learned that some who heard or learned of the "street-smart" remark thought it was derogatory or racially insensitive, he explained: "To me, the term means a person of great common sense, initiative, and ability to work with people and get things done. 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 said that during a later conversation with Gray he learned that some thought he should step down as chief 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.

Carney said that statement was wrong and it was directed at critics, not Gray.

"My statement was an insensitive and graphic overreaction to the criticism that was leveled against me. I never should have made the comparison," Carney said.

Gray declined to comment when reached by phone, the Times said.

Carney is a former Orange County Superior Court judge who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2003.

Carney, who will remain a judge, said Judge Philip S. Gutierrez will take over as chief of the district, which includes Los Angeles and six adjacent counties.