Monday, March 8, 2021

Coronavirus Update 3-8-2021: Local judge in hot water over “China Virus” comments

Rule number one of this blog has always been, "Don't criticize judges whom you might appear in front of." Rules, however, are made to be broken, and some issues are just too important to ignore.

Judge John O’Donnell of the Lake County Court of Common Pleas is in hot water over comments he made in this month's edition of his county bar association's newsletter. In an article he wrote about managing his courtroom during the pandemic, he called COVID-19 the "China Virus" three separate times.

This is simply not acceptable. I'm appalled, and you should be, too.

The Asian American Bar Association of Ohio, the Anti-Defamation League of Ohio, and the Norman S. Minor Bar Association (a legal organization for Black attorneys in Northeast Ohio) told that they condemn O'Donnell's use of the term. I join their call.

For its part, the Lake County Bar Associate released a statement calling O'Donnell's comments "insensitive and offensive to many people." Neither the bar association nor its leadership, however, has offered an apology or retracted the judge's column.

We must do better. Lawyers are leaders in the community. Society looks to us, and especially the judges that interpret and apply the law, to do so fairly and equally, without regard to issues such as race. The sad fact is that after a year, Asian Americans are not only still getting blamed for COVID-19, they are getting harassed and attacked over it. Between March and December of 2020, there were nearly 3,000 reported incidents of racist encounters against Asian Americans. Most involved verbal harassment, while a small number included violent assaults.

We should be doubling down on our efforts to combat the rise of discrimination against Asian Americans, not making comments that exacerbate the problem. I hope Judge O'Donnell realizes his error, retracts his article, and apologizes. And I look forward to the opportunity to one day discuss these issues with the judge in detail.