Judge Rules Portraits Of White Judges In Courtroom Must Be Removed For Black Defendant

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Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David Bernhard ruled that a jury hearing a black man’s case in a courtroom lined with portraits of white jurists would harm the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

Terrence Shipp, a black man charged with eluding police, will have his case heard in a courtroom with no portraits on the wall.

Bernhard stated that his usual courtroom has no portraits, but jury trials are now being held in larger courtrooms because of the pandemic, and the walls of those rooms feature portraits of retired judges who are overwhelmingly white.

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Public defenders filed "Motion to Remove Portraiture Overwhelmingly Depicting White Jurists Hanging in Trial Courtroom," drawing attention to the issue.

"While to some the issue of portraits might be a trivial matter, to those subject to the justice system it is far from the case," Bernhard wrote in his Sunday ruling.

He aired his concern that the portraits "may serve as unintended but implicit symbols that suggest the courtroom may be a place historically administered by whites for whites."

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He stated that 45 of the 47 portraits hanging in the courtrooms consist of white jurists.

Prosecutors did not object the request, Bernhard wrote in his ruling.

The chief public defender in Fairfax County, Dawn Butorac, stated that the judge's ruling was "a very, very, very small step in a long overdue journey to battle systemic racism" in the judicial system.

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Earlier this year, a judge ordered the removal of a portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a courtroom in Louisa County.

Bernhard, born in El Salvador, was elected to the bench by the state legislature in 2017.

Sources: Patch