Judge Sentences Racist Juror to Indefinite Jury Duty

Another bizarre case from the annals of rogue judges and runaway sentencing.

Another bizarre case from the annals of rogue judges and runaway sentencing.

New York Daily News (“Judge gives ‘Juror No. 799’ indefinite jury duty after she makes racist remarks on questionnaire“):

An incensed federal judge sentenced a racist Brooklyn woman to indefinite jury duty on Tuesday after she trashed the NYPD and minorities. “This is an outrage, and so are you!” Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis told the woman, holding up her bile-filled juror questionnaire.

Juror No. 799, an Asian woman in her 20s who said she works in the garment industry, was up for jury duty in the death penalty trial of Bonanno crime boss Vincent (Vinny Gorgeous) Basciano. It didn’t take long for her to start looking worse than the defendant. Asked to name three people she least admired, she wrote on her questionnaire: “African-Americans, Hispanics and Haitians.”

When the judge asked why she answered the question that way, she replied, “You always hear about them in the news doing something.” She also declared that cops are all lazy, claiming that they sound their sirens to bypass traffic jams.

Garaufis flipped forward several pages in her questionnaire. He landed on the page where she had said she had a relative who was a member of the Chinese Ghost Shadows gang in the 1980s, convicted of murder and still in prison. “Why didn’t you put ‘Asians’ down also?” the judge asked sarcastically, referring to her list of least-liked people. “Maybe I should have,” she said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Taryn Merkl requested that the woman be disqualified from the Vinny Gorgeous case because of her “inappropriate” comments. The motion was granted.

It is not unheard of for people to try to get out of jury service by making ridiculous statements concerning their views. It was unclear Tuesday whether that was this woman’s motive.

And if it was, it didn’t work. Indeed, the woman was going to be seeing a lot of Brooklyn Federal Court. “She’s coming back [today], Thursday and Friday – and until the future, when I am ready to dismiss her,” Garaufis said.

Whether this woman actually harbored the beliefs stated on the questionnaire or was intentionally being outrageous to game the system, she’s not on trial or accused of any crimes. So what gives this idiot judge any right to speak to her in that manner? He’s a public servant making a living off of her taxes. His function is to ensure that defendants get a fair trial and make rulings on matters of law before him, not offer his opinions on the views of ordinary citizens.

Nor is it clear where he derives the authority to hold her indefinitely for jury duty without empaneling her. Obviously, he can’t put her on a case where either the defendant or any key witnesses are black, Hispanic, or Haitian.

If he’s got strong reason to believe she’s gaming the system to get out of jury duty, he should warn her of the penalties for false statements and ask her to reconsider her answers in that light. If she sticks to her story, perhaps an inquiry is in order. (Although, it’s probably not worth the time unless this sort of thing is becoming commonplace.) But going off on a diatribe and abusing his power is indefensible.

As to NYDN staff writer John Marzulli, who did the reporting excerpted above, does he really believe that some poor garment worker’s holding the view that some ethnic groups aren’t worthy of her respect is worse than being a mob boss who has already been convicted of murder, kidnapping, and racketeering?

UPDATE: A report on ABC’s “Good Morning America” indicates that Garaufis released “Juror 799” yesterday afternoon.

However, he later relented, releasing the woman after a day of duty in which she sat alone in a holding tank. He allowed her to sneak out the back door to avoid the media.


“I have 18 years on the job and I’ve seen every excuse in the book,” said Anthony Frisolone, the court reporter who took transcriptions of the proceedings. “It’s deplorable that people try this stuff. I find it offensive.”


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Matt says:

    I don’t see the problem with her serving. She didn’t say she hated Italians.

  2. tom p says:

    So what gives this idiot judge any right to speak to her in that manner?

    Uhhhh…. didn’t we just have a freedom of speech thread?

  3. Jack says:

    I’ve often wondered what the limits of judges’ contempt of court powers are. Maybe this judge thinks there are none.

  4. Rock says:

    Maybe Judge Nicholas has watched Judge Judy too much and is trying to get a gig on TV.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @tom p:

    But the corollary is that public officials can’t infringe on the rights of people based on the content of their speech. This is actually an extreme case, in that the citizen–again, accused of no crime–is there against her will and held captive by this public official.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    Most likely what happened was that the judge refused to release her from jury duty until all jury selections in the court house had been completed. He was refusing to give her the benefit of an earlier dismissal. But “holding tank” sounds perhaps like he found her in direct contempt, not for racist speech, but for making it difficult to seat a jury.

  7. mantis says:

    But “holding tank” sounds perhaps like he found her in direct contempt, not for racist speech, but for making it difficult to seat a jury.

    I’m guessing the “holding tank” is just the juror waiting room. I’ve sat in one of them all day too (and not for answering questions in an objectionable way). How come I didn’t make the news? The judge held me captive!

  8. PD Shaw says:

    mantis, that’s what I suspect as well.

    I guess theoretically if you are required to be at the courthouse for jury selection and all of the juries have not been selected yet, it’s not necessarily incarceration because you theoretically would have been waiting around at the courthouse anyway. And sounds like she got to go home every day.

  9. H. W. Baker says:

    I don’t believe that freedom of speech is a license to attempt denigrate the humanity of people based on their ethnicity. To be honest though, the practice is quite common in America, and it makes our government look stupid as it runs to and fro trying to sell others on our racial/ethnic tolerance.

    Racism is still very much alive here and freedom,….well.