Local News

Judge's Use Of Word Sparks Debate About Courtroom Language

Posted February 2, 2004

— It is a word that often sparks emotion. It is a word of hate.

Now, it is a word that has sparked a new debate.

A Wake County Superior Court judge, who has been in trouble before, used the "N" word in open court. While some people are outraged, others think the judge did nothing wrong.

Natalie Dunn is the first to admit her son and two friends did something wrong.

"They were breaking the law," Dunn said.

Aubrey White and two other college students received jail time for kidnapping and robbing another student. During that sentencing hearing, Judge Evelyn Hill gave the men a lecture.

The lecture included the use of the "N" word.

"She was really enjoying saying that," Dunn said. "That's how I felt."

To be clear, Judge Hill did

not

call the defendants the "N" word.

According to the court transcript, she was trying to get a point across about the sacrifices others had made so African Americans could go to college.

She talked about personal experiences where the racial slur was used against her and her daughter.

"I didn't see that as inappropriate," Assistant District Attorney Tom Ford said.

Ford was in the courtroom and heard the entire lecture. He has known Judge Hill since her days as a Wake County prosecutor.

"She's the most colorblind judicial official I know," Ford said.

Ford believes the word, which was said four times, was used in context.

"It was a perfect description of what many of our citizens had to endure for years so that other citizens now have the benefits they have and the advantages they have," Ford said. "It was not offensive."

This was not the first time Judge Hill's actions have caused controversy. Last year, the state Supreme Court censured her for insulting a lawyer during trial and for accusations that she inappropriately touched a deputy.

"Is there ever an appropriate time for a judge to use the 'N' word in open court? No, there's not," said Burley Mitchell, former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. "Just for the very fact you can't say it to me when you ask the question."

Mitchell said he knows Judge Hill and did not believe she meant to offend anyone. But he said he failed in judgement.

"There are some things you can't do, not because they are inherently wrong, but because when you use the word 'N...R,' people shut down," Mitchell said. "They do not listen.

"You can't communicate using that word. It's hurtful to many people, and you have to recognize it."

The word was so hurtful to Natalie Dunn that she complained to the governor's office. The complaint is now in the hands of the Judicial Standards Commission.

WRAL tried to reach Judge Hill and her attorney numerous times. They did not return the station's phone calls.

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