La. Judge Suspended for Wearing Blackface

A judge who wore blackface makeup, handcuffs and a jail jumpsuit at a Halloween party will be suspended for six months, the Louisiana Supreme Court (search) ruled Monday.

The justices voted 5-2 to suspend Judge Timothy Ellender (search) for a year without pay for dishonoring his position, but to defer half of that penalty. Ellender will lose more than $50,000 in pay, one judge noted.

Ellender, who is white, testified the costumes worn by him and his wife — she was dressed as a policewoman — were meant only as a joke to show he was her prisoner. The party's host, Ellender's brother-in-law, was dressed as Buckwheat.

The justices agreed Ellender did not mean to insult blacks. Nevertheless, they ordered him to take a sociology course "which will assist him in achieving a greater understanding of racial sensitivity."

Phone messages left with Ellender and his attorney, Bill Bordelon, were not immediately returned.

Jerome Boykin, head of the Terrebonne Parish branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (search), applauded the ruling.

"The Supreme Court sent a strong message that the court won't tolerate racist acts by judges," he said.

Bordelon argued Ellender should not be punished because the blackface incident occurred only once and was not persistent behavior. But Justice Chet Traylor, writing for the majority, said the incident was damaging.

"The negative shroud cast upon the state's judiciary by Judge Ellender's actions will only be lifted by time," Taylor said.