An Oklahoma County judge, accused of being a racist, admitted Monday he used the word â€œwetbacksâ€ to describe roofers who damaged his property.
â€œI was pretty upset with the lack of quality of work,â€ 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 â€” including ones involving Hispanic defendants â€” despite their supposed concerns.
â€œIt's all about playing games,â€ 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. â€œI don't think the judge will rule in our favor,â€ lead attorney Irven Box said. â€œThe judge is trying as hard as he can to keep this case.â€
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 â€œwetbacksâ€ 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 â€œif they needed somebody to hold a shotgun to their heads to get them back across the border, he'd be the first to volunteer.â€
She said the judge would say â€œtheir kindâ€ 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.
She said she had nightmares because of the things the judge said.
Prosecutors suggested during the hearing that Irven Box also is making allegations against the judge because the judge scolded Isla Box for mistakes at work. Testimony at times focused on how many times the attorney called his wife a day. She stopped working for the judge in September.
Prater called Elliott, 59, the fairest judge in the courthouse. â€œHe's tough, but fair,â€ the prosecutor said.
The hearing, before a packed courtroom, often turned ugly. During breaks, some spectators said testimony reminded them of a soap opera or a reality show.
At one point, Box complained the district attorney said to him, â€œBring it on.â€ At another point, defense attorney Joe Brett Reynolds told Prater, â€œLet's have it, buddy.â€
Prosecutors put into evidence that Irven and Isla Box married May 15, a week after her divorce was finalized, and that he represented her in the divorce case.
Also coming out in testimony were their ages. Irven Box is 70. Isla Box is 31.
Prosecutors also put into evidence records showing that Irven Box made a $500 donation to Elliott's re-election campaign April 20.
The judge made some accusations of his own. The judge said Irven Box once revealed he had planned to ask the original trial judge to quit the case because she is black and the robber was black. The judge asked if Irven Box remembered saying as long as she had cameras in the courtroom, he would overlook that.
Irven Box said, â€œI did not say that.â€
The judge replied, â€œWith all due respect, I remember it clearly.â€
The original trial judge, Tammy Bass-LeSure, quit the case Aug. 31 because prosecutors complained she couldn't be fair. Elliott on Sept. 1 ruled against televising the trial even though defense attorneys wanted it televised.
Ersland, 59, was charged with first-degree murder after he shot a masked robber six times in May 2009 inside Reliable Discount Pharmacy in south Oklahoma City. Killed was Antwun â€œSpeedyâ€ Parker, 16, of Oklahoma City.
Ersland, who lives in Chickasha, has said he acted to defend himself and two female employees. Prosecutors say Ersland went too far when he fired the last five shots, in effect executing an unconscious, unarmed robber who was no longer a threat.
The pharmacist watched the hearing from a chair in the corner of the courtroom.
During a break, he told The Oklahoman, â€œI didn't know this was going to about Irven and his wife. I thought this was going to be about my case.â€