On the death of Nelson Mandela, the case of Williamson County State’s Attorney Charles Garnati before the the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission would seem to confirm just how much work has yet to be done. Garnati has been called to account to an argument in a murder trial that contrasted the black defendant with people “in our white world.”
Ethics officials charge Garnati with statements that “served no purpose other than to appeal to racial prejudice.” The statements were made at the trial of Marcus Marshall who allegedly shot and killed LaQuinn Hudson at a party in August 2010. He was tried by an all-white jury and Garnati seemed to want the jurors to see the murder as a matter in black and white. He began with “Now in our white world, ladies and gentlemen ….” He then observed “there are some very good law-abiding citizens in that community here.” He was referring to the small African-American community in the area.
He is facing four charges, including conduct that “tends to defeat the administration of justice or to bring the courts or legal profession into disrepute.” Unlike Garnati, the good people at the Illinois bar seem to believe that “in our legal world” such references to race are anathema.
Garnati later agreed (as he had to) that Hudson deserved a new trial. To put it more simply, he denied a man a fair trial for murder and wasted the time of both the court and the jurors by turning the proceeding into a race-baiting travesty.
Garnati is in his eighth four-year term as the elected state’s attorney. He is a Democrat. He has been previously charged with ethics violation in an alleged malicious prosecution, though the court ruled in his favor. He also publicly accused police of harassing him after he prosecuted officers in the town when one stopped him as he was pulling into his driveway.
With the death of such an icon as Mandala, the timing could not be worse for Garnati. However, these comments would hopefully be treated as anathema at any time.
The question is what the proper punishment for such statements should be. Race-baiting does not simply show a lack of professionalism and ethics but conveys to citizens that their race will be considered in criminal prosecutions. Given his concession that a new trial is needed, he will presumably argue that this was a terrible mistake on his part and that poorly crafted words left the wrong impression of his true views. Should one such incident lead to his being removed as a prosecutor or even disbarred?