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Judge Who Called Dylann Roof’s Family 'Victims' Previously Made Racist Remark in Court

A backlash erupted over a statement Friday by Charleston County Magistrate James Gosnell, but it's not the first time he's made controversial remarks in court.
June 20, 2015, 3:50pm
Photo by Grace Beahm/EPA

When alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof appeared in court for a bond hearing on Friday, Charleston County Magistrate James Gosnell began the proceeding by declaring that Roof's family members were also "victims" in the attack that killed nine people at the historic Emanuel AME Church.

"There are victims on this young man's side of the family. We must find it in our heart… to help his family as well," Gosnell said.

The remark triggered an immediate backlash on social media.

Related: Judge Sets South Carolina Shooting Suspect's Bond at $1M for Weapons Charge

Judge James Gosnell remarks. remember Dylann Roof family are victims too! — N4CER (@n4cerinc)June 19, 2015

According to Judge James Gossnell, the Roof family are just as much victims of Dylann's terrorism as the families of the 9 people he killed.

— #BlackLivesMatter (@BroderickGreer)June 19, 2015

Dylann Roof's family raised a monster and gave him a gun. How they're not locked up beside him is beyond me. That judge should be disbarred.

— C. Álvarez-Aranyos (@CAlvarezAranyos)June 19, 2015

It later emerged that Gosnell has a history of racist language in the courtroom.

"There are four kinds of people in this world — black people, white people, rednecks, and n---rs," Gosnell told a black defendant in a November 6, 2003 bond reduction hearing, according to the Daily Beast.

After a judicial disciplinary proceeding over the comment, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a determination in 2005. Gosnell reportedly tried to defend himself by claiming that he knew the defendant, the defendant's father, and the defendant's grandfather — connections that he believed made his "four kids of people" comment acceptable. The judge also claimed he first heard the comment from a black law enforcement officer.

"[Gosnell] represents that when the defendant, an African-American, appeared in court for the bond hearing, [Gosnell] recalled a statement made to him by a veteran African American sheriff's deputy," the finding said.

The court's finding also added that, "Gosnell alleges he repeated this statement to the defendant in an ill-considered effort to encourage him to recognize and change the path he had chosen in life."

Related: Calls to Remove Confederate Flag Follow South Carolina Murders

There was also a second, separate ethics complaint where Gosnell was accused of favoritism. On November 8, 2003, Gosnell's colleague, fellow Charleston Judge Joseph S. Mendelsohn was arrested for driving under the influence and having an open container in his car. Mendelsohn was processed at the Mount Pleasant police station and informed he would then be transported to the Charleston County Detention Center pending a bond hearing the following morning.

Mendelsohn telephoned Gosnell, who asked the police lieutenant on duty to bring Mendelsohn directly to bond court rather than first being booked into the detention center, according to the finding. The request was reportedly rebuffed when "the lieutenant refused to bypass the standard booking procedure, stating [Mendelsohn] would be booked like any defendant."

Gosnell nevertheless took it upon himself to call a court supervisor to dispatch a staff member to Mendelsohn's detention center so that he could conduct a bail hearing. The finding also states that during this conversation, the court supervisor informed Gosnell that if a bond hearing were held at a time other than normal operating hours, Gosnell would be required to hold a bond hearing for all incarcerated defendants.

Despite the warning, Gosnell reportedly took possession of Mendelsohn's ticket, placed a "bond hearing" stamp on the back, and entered the amount of $1,002. Mendelsohn was released from the Charleston County Detention Center at approximately 2:30am. Gosnell reportedly told concerned detention center officials something along the lines of "this didn't happen until 8:00am."

South Carolina's Supreme Court punished Gosnell for his misconduct by giving him what amounted to a verbal slap on the wrist: "The Court deems a public reprimand appropriate. Accordingly, respondent is hereby reprimanded for his misconduct."

Per standard procedure in South Carolina, Gosnell — a magistrate — only has the authority to preside over Roof's bond hearing. The state Supreme Court announced that Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson will preside over Roof's criminal charges.

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