US judge under fire for alleged comments to Muslim defendant

27th Jul 2018

Elham Asaad Buaras

A US Muslim civil rights group is calling for disciplinary procedures against a Georgia judge for allegedly unleashing a discriminatory tirade on an Iranian refugee before sentencing him to five months for a misdemeanour.

Uber driver Fazain Azizan was driving last autumn when his fiancée crashed into his car.Azizan said he argued with the ambulance driver when he refused to take him to a hospital that accepted his insurance. In dashcam video, the driver can be heard complaining about Azizan to an officer who responded to the accident.

“I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with this guy and now the back of our ambulance stinks of alcohol and he’s really starting to (expletive) me off,” the EMT said. “He’s being belligerent.” A DUI task force officer later confirmed Azizan was not drunk, but the officer arrested Azizan for misdemeanour disorderly conduct.

The officer took him to the hospital before going to the North Fulton Jail annexe where he sat for nearly three hours. The trial transcript shows City Solicitor Bill Riley said Azizan did not comply with the officer and was threatening to his passenger everyone, including his own Uber passenger “Ms Thurman and put her in fear of her safety”.

Riley said Azizan had threatened the passenger when she told him to calm down while he had an argument with his fiancée on the phone moments before the crash.

According to a transcript, Sandy Springs Municipal Judge Sharon Dickson negatively referenced Azizan’s heritage: “You have been here eight years as a refugee because there was no law where you came from. You wanted to be in a free country. You want freedom. You don’t want your freedom suspended for no reason. Being arrested was a real surprise for you.”

After Azizan tried to interrupt her, Dickson stopped him in his tracks: “You don’t get to talk. It’s my turn, OK. But, I know where you came from, women don’t mean anything. Ok? But that’s not how it works here. Ok? You can look up or you don’t have to. It’s up to you. I mean, I’m just a woman. I’m only a woman who is wearing a robe today. Doesn’t matter. I get this. This is who you are. So, when you live in a free society, you have a responsibility. You don’t just have freedom. Freedom exists because people follow rules. You need to go to jail. You are despicable to me.”

“I think the comments she directed at Mr Azizan and the sentence that he received that they go hand in hand. I don’t think there’s any mystery as to why he received that sentence,” said Jason McLendon, appeal lawyer. Fulton County Judge Constance Russell upheld the conviction and sentence last month, discounting that Dickson’s alleged bias played a role in the sentencing, but admonishing her for her “objectionable and wholly inappropriate” language.

McLendon disagreed and plans to appeal the decision to a higher court insisting his client should “be tried in front of a neutral judge and not a judge that harbours a bias against people from Iran.”

Murtaza Khwaja, a lawyer for the Georgia Chapter of CAIR, confirmed they are to file an official complained with the Judicial Qualifications Commission against Dickson as “It was very clear of a bias against anyone from Iran and there’s no place for that in the justice system. Our justice system guarantees the right to a trial devoid of any prejudice or discrimination and that’s something that didn’t happen in this instance.”

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