Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Commissioner Bemoans Use of ‘N’ Word; Reiner Twists What He Said
By ROGER M. GRACE
111th in a Series
IRA K. REINER, Los Angeles’s grandstanding DA, drew widespread scorn for announcing at a news conference on Aug. 25, 1987, that his office would refuse to stipulate to cases being heard by Glendale Municipal Court Commissioner Daniel Calabro because of an alleged racial slur uttered by the jurist at a preliminary hearing on June 15. In truth, what the commissioner had voiced was a loathing of racial intolerance.
An Aug. 31 MetNews editorial puts forth this view:
It should go without saying that any judicial officer who, while on the bench, has utilized a racial epithet in addressing any person or referring to any person simply should not be permitted to keep his job.
Glendale Municipal Court Commissioner Daniel Calabro has been guilty of no such misconduct.
Calabro, the brunt of a sick and unmerciful publicity-seeking stunt by District Attorney Ira Reiner, has been portrayed as a bigot. The District Attorney’s Office, Reiner has proclaimed, won’t stipulate to Calabro hearing any cases—this because, he spoke these words in court:
“Another ‘nigger’ case? Another one where this ‘nigger’ business comes up? We’re not past that yet? I thought we were all past that.”
The words were spoken in a case involving a racially motivated attack on a black by a white after the attacker addressed the victim as a “nigger”. A few days before, Calabro had presided over a case with similar theme.
Read in context, his remarks reflect exasperation over the lingering presence of racism in our society—in particular, his abhorrence of use of the term “nigger.”
Calabro on Friday, addressing a largely black audience, expressed repentance for his remark. While he is to be commended for his courage and forthrightness, we disagree with the notion that his conduct called for any apology.
His words were twisted by a demagogue who, it is known, wants to be attorney general as the next step in his political career. Reiner was, it would appear, seeking to curry favor with black voters by manufacturing an attack on blacks, then rushing to their defense.
If this was, indeed, his motivation, the conduct was unconscionable—as much of Reiner’s conduct has been. Reiner risked killing the career of an able judicial officer respected within his community.
The editorial proceeds to take issue with Reiner having called a press conference “to denounce a commissioner (a court employee) in a tiny judicial district, and seek to visit upon him widespread public disapprobation, all based on a trumped-up charge apparently for personal political advantage.” The editorial continues:
Having laughed off a [public reproval] by the State Bar, Reiner is unlikely to be at all concerned by this newspaper’s notation that we regard him as unfit for public office by virtue of his patent lack of commitment to fundamental fairness. What he would be unable to shrug his shoulders at is denunciation by voters.
Reiner is, in our view, a bright but truly dangerous man—dangerous, that is, if he is in a position of power. It stands to reason that this dangerousness would swell with any increase in his power, but shrivel if he were returned to private life.
As we see it, it is not Calabro whose continued status as a public official should be in question, but rather, Reiner’s.
Others found Reiner’s latest publicity ploy unsettling. An Aug. 27 editorial in the Daily News makes these points:
“Nothing that Calabro said proves that he is racist. There is no evidence that he uttered the offensive term to express any malice toward blacks. By Calabro’s own account—which Reiner did not bother to hear firsthand—he used the pejorative merely to describe the case before him, the second racial assault case to come before Calabro within five days….
“Indeed, if Calabro was simply using the word to describe the case, as he earnestly contends, then he is no more guilty of racism than Reiner, who in discussing the episode with the press used the same word he denounced Calabro for using.
“Reiner said he waited two months before taking action against Calabro because he wanted to weigh the matter carefully, ‘because it brings to an end his (Calabro’s) career as a judicial officer.’ But it’s odd that during those weeks of deliberations, Reiner couldn’t find the time to pick up the phone and talk to Calabro about the matter, to try to assess whether the remark came out of prejudice or simply out of poor judgment.
“We would be among the first to cheer if Reiner could clearly show that he had rooted a racist out of the judicial system. But Reiner’s failure to come up with anything solid against Ca1abro leaves us with the impression that, in this most serious and sensitive matter, the district attorney is simply grandstanding.”
The Los Angeles Times, by contrast, saw it as Reiner did. An Aug. 30 editorial remarks:
“Glendale Municipal Court Commissioner Daniel F. Calabro made an unfortunate choice of a word when he used the epithet nigger from the bench. He claims that he was only describing yet another racial-harassment case, but, regardless of the context, the slur is absolutely inappropriate in any situation....
“Raymond Johnson of the Los Angeles Chapter of the NAACP and other leaders have insisted, correctly, that a judge must be totally above racist and derogatory language. If a word like nigger can be uttered from the bench, what is permissible behind closed doors?
“....While Calabro claims that he did not use the slur in a derogatory way, the epithet can be used in no other fashion.”
The astute argument in the Valley News as to Reiner’s own use of the word can be applied to the Times editorial. It utilizes the word “nigger” four times...which confesses the invalidity of its assertion that the word cannot be used other than “in a derogatory way.” The Times employs the word because the incident in issue entailed the use of it, and a discussion compels reference to it. The case before Calabro entailed use of the epithet, and mention of it in the course of hearing the case was inevitable.
The Times editorial proclaims: “The pejorative word nigger still wounds deeply.” That sentence uses the term not offensively, not directed at someone, but in the context of decrying utterances of it. That’s how Calabro used it.
Others also looked at Reiner’s action and Calabro’s response.
•Thomas L. Simpson, president of the Glendale Bar Assn., on Aug. 31 released the results of an investigation by an ad hoc. Committee, appointed by the Board of Trustees. The statement relates:
“Having completed the review of the facts and circumstances giving rise to [the] allegations, each member of the committee holds a strong opinion that the words spoken by Commissioner Calabro were not uttered with reference to any individual, or group, but merely constituted a description of an unfortunate case with which Commissioner Calabro had particular disgust. None of the committee members has ever considered Commissioner Calabro racially biased and after a review of all of the facts, circumstances and allegations of this matter remain even more convinced than ever of said opinion.
“The conclusions we have reached are not opinions over which reasonable minds could differ. It is our feeling that any responsible person or entity making a thorough investigation of the facts and circumstances, and having no ulterior motive or bias would conclude that there is no basis for any allegation for racial prejudice against Commissioner Calabro.”
•Cheryl Krott (now deceased), the Glendale Municipal Court’s presiding judge, and her colleague, Judge Barbara Lee Burke, examined the transcript and talked with witnesses. Krott on Sept. 8 issued a press statement which includes this:
“We conclude that Commissioner Calabro should not be removed from the bench based on this incident, as there is no evidence to support a finding of malicious conduct. Commissioner Calabro, in his own words concluded that the use of the word was inappropriate and injudicious. We agree, it is not a word that should be included in any person’s vocabulary. However, we are convinced that the Commissioner was alluding to the arrest report and the prior incident which he had handled only a week earlier. Let us not forget that we too are only human beings who also make mistakes. Hopefully, this is not a mistake that will be repeated by anyone.
“The Court has been inundated with letters of support from persons who have know[n] the Commissioner for years, and from others who do not know him at all, but who are familiar with him due to the media coverage. Numerous letters have been received from lawyers who have appeared before him. The consensus of opinion is that the Commissioner is not a racist or a bigot.”
•Deane Dana, county supervisor from the Fourth District (since deceased), on Sept. 8 offered an artfully drafted resolution which took into account hostility toward Calabro in some sectors of the African American community—though Supervisor Kenneth Hahn (also deceased) had done much to smooth things over. The resolution reads:
“The act of forgiveness over the comments made by Municipal Court Commissioner Daniel Calabro is not within the purview of this Board to either approve or deny. I have no doubt about the accuracy and the sincerity of those who have spoken out in favor of Commissioner Calabro and those, including the Human Relations Commission, who have agreed that no racial offense had been intended in his remarks.
“If there is to be forgiveness, it must come first from those who were slurred. What must also be measured is the ability of this Court Commissioner to be effective and credible in any future cases involving minority plaintiffs or defendants. Those are both issues beyond the reach of this Board of Supervisors. The first rests with the people, the second with the courts.
“I, THEREFORE MOVE THAT THE BOARD:
“Formally request that the District Attorney arrange and participate in a meeting with the appropriate leadership of the various NAACP levels, the presiding judge of the Glendale Municipal Court, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and Court Commissioner Daniel Calabro in an effort to hear fully the evidence and attempt to reach a just and appropriate decision.”
The motion carried unanimously.
A Herald Examiner editorial of Sept. 10 comments:
“In the case of Glendale Municipal Court Commissioner Daniel F. Calabro, District Attorney lra Reiner is sticking by his guns. And shooting himself in the foot.
“Reiner told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that he would not back down from his order forbidding his deputies to appear in Calabro’s court, effectively preventing the commissioner from hearing any criminal matters.”
Noting the various inquiries, the editorial remarks:
“It’s hard to imagine a judicial officer this side of [U.S. Supreme Court nominee] Robert Bork whose attitudes have been more thoroughly probed in recent weeks than Daniel Calabro’s. After all this scrutiny, nothing even close to a pattern of racism emerged.”
The piece ends with this zinger:
“Ultimately, Reiner can be held accountable, of course, by the voters. If he persists in turning a blind eye to the weight of the evidence in this case, those voters should ask if this is the sort of man they want as the county’s top prosecutor.”
Trustees of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. on Oct. 28 tendered a report which found:
“[T]here is no basis for concluding that Commissioner Daniel F. Calabro is a racist, has racist sympathies, or used an offensive racial epithet or used accents or pronunciations with intent to disparage any person or group. While his utterance of an offensive racial term in a court hearing was thoughtless and inappropriate, it appears he used the word because it was in a police report; it did not originate with him. Considering how the word came up, the nature of the case and the immediately preceding events, the trustees conclude that no grounds exist for censuring Commissioner Calabro.”
Reiner, that same day, sent a letter to Krott saying:
“Today the County Bar has reported on the matter of Commissioner Daniel Calabro. That report is based upon a thorough investigation of the facts surrounding the conduct of the Commissioner…The Bar’s report is consistent with the judgment of the professional staff of this office who felt that his actions fell below the standard expected of a judicial officer….Having reviewed the report of the Los Angeles County Bar and having discussed the findings with my staff, and having discussed this matter with leaders of the minority community, I am directing my deputies to begin immediately to stipulate before Commissioner Calabro.”
A Nov. 11 Herald-Examiner editorial contains this reaction:
“The issue was insensitivity. Glendale Municipal Court Commissioner Daniel F. Calabro stood accused of it. His accuser, District Attorney Ira Reiner, exemplified it.”
The editorial goes on to say:
“Now…the lack of support for Reiner’s precipitous action has become too much even for this ambitious district attorney to ignore. So, he magnanimously has decided to allow Calabro to start rebuilding his career. Calabro has apologized profusely for his remarks. Reiner is unrepentant about his conduct.
“ ‘This served a most constructive purpose,’ Reiner said. He’s right. It allowed us to examine the judgment of two officials. The one who failed the test wasn’t Commissioner Calabro.”
Calabro retired as a commissioner in 2004.
He now says of Reiner: “I’d rather not talk about him,” explaining, “I don’t want relive the past,” terming the incident “so odious.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company