Op-Ed

African-American communities can no longer trust Miami-Dade Judge Steve Millan to be fair

Circuit Judge Steve Millan used a racial slur in a talk with a defendant’s attorney.
Circuit Judge Steve Millan used a racial slur in a talk with a defendant’s attorney.

I was perplexed and dismayed at reports that Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Steve Millan made racial slurs in referring to a defendant whose case was before him. How could this apparent friend of the black community refer to a black defendant as a “moolie” on one occasion and a black defendant and his family as “thugs” in another instance?

I recalled when, in 2014, Millan was campaigning as a judicial candidate. At that time, I was the president-elect of the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association (GSCBWLA). I interacted frequently with Millan during the planning of the association’s judicial candidates forum. The forum is an opportunity for voters to learn more about judicial candidates to make an informed decision at the polls.

Candidate Millan was gracious and presented well during the forum. His answers to the questions posed made him appear to be qualified for the position. He appeared to be approachable and humble, as if he possessed the proper judicial temperament. I was not the least bit surprised that he won that race.

Millan admitted using the term “moolie” in 2016 during a one-on-one conversation with the defendant’s attorney. The term an offensive racial slur that is used to refer to African Americans or people with a dark complexion. In explaining his use of the term, Millan said that as a “youngster growing up in a mixed neighborhood in New York … it was not unusual for my friends and I to occasionally use slur words when referring to others, including our friends and ourselves.” He added that, “Times certainly have changed, and in this regard for the better. I know well that today, the use of any slur is inappropriate, especially for a judge.”

But in October 2017, Millan, during a break with attorneys in his chambers, directed his bailiff to return to the courtroom to retrieve his wallet because he did not “trust it in there with those thugs.” This comment, unlike the other, appeared to not only refer to a defendant but also the defendant’s family and friends who were in the courtroom.

Subsequently, Millan was investigated by the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), which recommended that he pay a $5,000 fine, receive a 30-day suspension and attend an implicit-bias training (despite that fact that he already received this training at new-judges college). The JQC also issued a public reprimand. This matter is now pending before the Florida Supreme Court, who will make the ultimate determination of the appropriate discipline for Millan.

Since the story broke, black bar asssociations have spoken out unanimously, condemning Millan’s comments and voicing dismay over the slap on the wrist that he received. The gravity of his behavior seems to have been lost during these disciplinary proceedings. While awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision, Millan was moved from the Criminal Division to Dependency, presiding over cases where children have been abused, abandoned or neglected by their parents. The majority of litigants are black or brown and represent the most vulnerable population of our community, our children. Millan has already demonstrated racial insensitivity, yet he was transferred to an area of the judiciary that focuses on our children.

Rosanne Barr was recently fired from her hit TV show over her racist tweets referring to Valerie Jarrett, a key adviser to President Obama, suggesting that she is an ape. The JQC should take note of the swift and appropriate discipline handed down by ABC’s CEO, Channing Dungey.

The Florida Supreme Court obviously agrees. Last week, justices rejected the JQCs recommendation for a 30 day suspension, public reprimand and $5000. They ordered that the Judicial Qualifications Commission have a full hearing (which was not done prior), “to fully develop the facts regarding the misconduct that occurred, so that the court, in determining the appropriate discipline, will be apprised of all the facts and circumstances bearing on the alleged violations.”

Racism has no place on the judiciary. It is a cancer that must be terminated at the source before it spreads. Millan hasn’t shown any contrition and hasn’t attempted to atone for his actions to the same population he pandered to for their vote. Don’t they, at minimum, deserve an explanation? They certainly deserve a judiciary that is free from the appearance of impropriety, where they will receive equal justice under the law.

I look forward to members of the Gwen Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association, Wilkie D. Ferguson Bar Association and others concerned with our judiciary attending Millan's full hearing before the Judicial Qualification Commission. This is a public meeting, and we encourage the public to attend.

Attorney Loreal Arscott is the immediate past president of the Gwen Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association and board member of Wilkie D. Ferguson Bar Association.

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