Catch up: Odinet comes clean and takes unpaid leave

Lafayette City Court Judge Michelle Odinet Photo by Travis Gauthier

Dec. 31 UPDATE: Odinet resigned from her seat on Dec. 30, the Louisiana Supreme Court confirmed.

UPDATE: Odinet was temporarily disqualified from the bench by the Louisiana Supreme Court on Dec. 16 while complaints about her use of the n-word are investigated. The high court appointed retired Opelousas City Judge Vanessa Harris to serve the Lafayette City Court until Feb. 28.

The gist: There is no longer any doubt. Judge Michelle Odinet used the n-word in a video of her family cheering a thwarted burglary attempt at their home. Her attorney confirmed it to CBS News

She is now on leave. Odinet retained an ethics attorney to handle the crisis and took leave, for the time being putting her fate in the hands of the state judiciary commission. Until her admission, Odinet had only confirmed the video had taken place in her home, saying she was sedated at the time it was filmed and could not remember the “disturbing language.” 

Lawyers have begun filing motions to recuse. “There’s going to be some disruption in the court’s proceedings,” says G. Paul Marx, who heads the 15th Judicial District Public Defenders office. 

Her story has gone viral — globally. Reports in the New York Times, NBC News and the BBC have revved up attention and pressure quickly since The Current first published the video Monday

Her son Elijah was removed from LSU’s track and field team roster. No formal statement was made connecting his removal to the video, but LSU track posted this to social media Wednesday morning:

She’s been acting like a cowboy.’ Posts shared to her neighborhood Facebook group show Odinet had set up traps to catch burglars over the last two years. A neighbor told The Advocate that Odinet even laid out $20 cash and left her car door unlocked. When first asked about the video, Odinet said she was in a “fragile state of mind” after the attempted burglary, which she described as “horrific.” 

▸ Will she resign? Gov. John Bel Edwards thinks she should. He’s among the latest on a growing list to condemn her racist remarks or call for her resignation, including local and state leaders — M-P Josh Guillory, City Marshal Reggie Thomas, state Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, the Legislative Black Caucus — and some national organizations, including the National Bar Association and the Anti-Defamation League. Saying Odinet is “embarrassed and humiliated,” her attorney set no timeline for her resignation, instead saying she’d use her leave to figure out “what’s best for her and the community.” 

Could she be removed? Yes, and complaints have been filed that could spur that process. But because she’s an elected official, it’s tricky and could take a while. In 2004, a judge caught wearing blackface and an afro to a Halloween party was suspended for a year and a day. In 2020, a judge resigned after she admitted using the n-word repeatedly in text messages with a lover.