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Judge removal hearing continues in Ersland case

Defense attorneys want Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliot to take himself off pharmacist Jerome Jay Ersland's murder case, and they are making allegations of racism.
BY NOLAN CLAY Modified: December 7, 2010 at 5:55 am •  Published: December 6, 2010

An Oklahoma County judge, accused of being a racist, admitted Monday he used the word “wetbacks” to describe roofers who damaged his property.

“I was pretty upset with the lack of quality of work,” District Judge Ray C. Elliott said at a daylong hearing in the murder case against a pharmacist who fatally shot a robber.

Defense attorneys want the judge to take himself off the case, and they are the ones making the allegations of racism.

The pharmacist, Jerome Jay Ersland, is white, but defense attorneys allege the judge's negative comments about Hispanics and Latinos are proof he can't be fair to anyone.

Defense attorneys allege the judge also improperly received legal research on the case from his wife, an assistant district attorney.

Prosecutors contend the pharmacist's attorneys are raising the issues to delay the trial, not because the attorneys really believe the judge is unfair. Prosecutors pointed out that defense attorneys did not ask the judge to step down from other criminal cases — including ones involving Hispanic defendants — despite their supposed concerns.

“It's all about playing games,” District Attorney David Prater said.

The judge already has refused once to step down. He refused in November when defense attorneys complained to him in private. He is required to reconsider the request in a public hearing, which began Monday and will end today.

The judge is expected to rule again today. “I don't think the judge will rule in our favor,” lead attorney Irven Box said. “The judge is trying as hard as he can to keep this case.”

Defense attorneys can appeal if he refuses again, first to another Oklahoma County judge and then to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

Elliott did not testify, but he made some comments during the hearing particularly when he questioned witnesses himself.

The judge said he was unhappy with roofers who worked on his own home and another house he owns. Like many Oklahoma residents, the judge had hail damage this year. He said he used the word “wetbacks” Aug. 30 during a conversation with his own courthouse staff about the roofing work.

The key testimony against the judge came from Isla Box, a deputy court clerk who worked for almost two years in the judge's courtroom. She married Irven Box in May.

She testified the judge made sporadic negative comments about Hispanics, but it didn't get bad until the judge had to deal with the roofers. She said the judge also said Aug. 30 “if they needed somebody to hold a shotgun to their heads to get them back across the border, he'd be the first to volunteer.”

She said the judge would say “their kind” doesn't know how to take care of anything, that they don't have garbage cans in their own country, that they just throw their trash on the street and that's why America is becoming so bad.

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