Michelle Odinet’s short career on the Lafayette City Court bench ended — alas, too slowly — as it should have, with her formal resignation Friday, and an abject apology.
The 53-year-old first-time judge was caught on video in mid-December using racial slurs in reference to home security footage, which showed a Black man in the process of breaking into a family vehicle at the Odinets’ Bendel Gardens home. Family members detained the suspect, 59, on the family’s property; he was arrested after police arrived.
Odinet herself was captured that night, not in the commission of any crime but in the process of displaying vile hatred of the suspect based on his race. Her own words sell that charge: At one point during a minute-long video taken that early December morning, a young voice says, “and Mom’s yelling n—–, n——.” A female voice, later attributed to Odinet, responds on the video, “We have a n—–, it’s a n—–, it’s a n—–, like a roach.”
In her resignation letter, Odinet, a New Orleans native, expressed her sorrow for causing her adopted community pain and conceded, “My words did not foster the public’s confidence and integrity for the judiciary.” Too late.
Such admissions and apologies, weeks tardy in their arrival, followed a period in which Odinet initially declined to accept personal responsibility for her hateful behavior and later raised a suggestion that a son might have had a personal issue that was related to the circumstances surrounding the troublesome video, which since Dec. 13 has generated national and global attention and scorn. Calls for her resignation mounted, including some from responsible local law enforcement figures and elected leaders all the way to the Governor’s Office.
Voters, too, might reconsider their roles in choosing Odinet, whose recent legal experience was modest, for a judgeship over a well-respected veteran judge. Next time they should pay more attention to down-ballot races.
It’s regrettable when someone’s most injudicious behaviors are captured electronically and disseminated widely. Most people are better — far better, we hope — than their worst moments. Michelle Odinet might prove someday she is better than what the world has learned about her from this single, shameful incident.
But the sorry circumstances surrounding this video suggest potential for trouble more far-reaching than hateful speech, expressed without discretion. Court officials are reviewing cases in which Odinet was involved during her time, years ago, as a prosecutor in New Orleans, to determine if any hints of racism might have affected case outcomes. Results of her cases and decisions during her one year’s work on the Lafayette bench may also bear review, too, so that defendants and lawyers can be confident that the courtrooms are always level. Anyone who has listened to that video won’t need to ask why.
Not many people can fully withstand the scrutiny that social media imposes on us all. It’s easy enough to point fingers at Odinet, but she is hardly the first public official and certainly not the first person who has wilted under the light of video exposure. What was revealed in Odinet’s home should give all people pause about how they speak and act and judge others, not for fear of being found out but because our better angels ought to guide us to be the best and most noble versions of ourselves — always — on camera or not.