Who is Frank LaBuda? ‘Utterly racist’ judge calls Black man 'retarded' orders mouth be bound
ALBANY, NEW YORK: A panel of appeals judges in Albany slammed a former Sullivan County judge for "utterly racist" remarks to a Black defendant and for repeatedly ordering court officers to bind the man’s mouth with masking tape. On Thursday, July 1, 2021, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court’s Third Department said in a ruling it was "deeply troubled" by the "draconian" actions of since-retired Judge Frank LaBuda at his sentencing of Angelo Johnson on September 7, 2018.
The judge also told the defendant that he pitied him because his brain was "probably retarded in growth". LaBuda told Johnson, who was 41 at the time, in court, "I feel sorry for you. Because I know that if we were to look in your mind we would find that your brain, your frontal lobes, your decision-making processes are probably retarded in growth."
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When addressing the defendant and offering his opinions on Johnson's mental capacity, LaBuda was said to have employed "19th century polygenism, a racist ideology that focused on the claimed inferiority of Black people based upon now-debunked theories of reduced brain size," according to the Third Department’s ruling on Thursday.
"It is shocking that any court, in 2018, would refer to this Black defendant's brain, frontal lobes and retardation of growth in concluding that defendant's brain was not developed,” stated Appellate Justice Michael Lynch, who authored the ruling. Justices Christine Clark, Sharon Aarons and John Colangelo concurred. LaBuda’s statements were "dehumanizing and offensive. To invoke such reasoning today is utterly racist and has no place in our system of justice,” the decision stated.
Johnson was convicted at trial of second-degree burglary and LaBuda sentenced him to 15 years to life in prison as a persistent felony offender. On Thursday, however, the four-judge appellate panel reportedly reduced that sentence to five years in prison with five years of post-release supervision.
Who is Judge Frank LaBuda?
As per a report in Times Union, LaBuda said that he had "no comment on (the court's) opinion." He said that he had not read the court decision, and when he was informed it accused him of making racist remarks, the 72-year-old said, "I think you should read what I said and not their opinion, because I am sure there is nothing racial or ethnic about my comments at all."
LaBuda, a former prosecutor was an acting Supreme Court justice, County Court judge and surrogate judge who reportedly ran for Sullivan County district attorney last year.
All the racist comments
At the sentencing, Johnson asked if he could speak for himself and invoked the Sixth Amendment. But the judge denied the request. Johnson told the judge that he believed the judge was being motivated by race, the decision explained.
"The exchange continued, prompting the court to direct court personnel, three times, to bind defendant's mouth with masking tape," Lynch stated. "That dire directive was, fortunately, not implemented and defense counsel completed his comments."
When the judge allowed Johnson a chance to speak, the defendant reportedly told LaBuda that he believed the proceedings were racially biased, the decision said. At some point, the judge told the defendant that "I heard you. But you know what? I am not going to follow your advice."
Johnson responded, "Of course you are not going to follow my rights. ... I am nothing to you.” The judge ended up sentencing Johnson to the 15-years-to-life term, and recommended he be kept in a maximum security facility and “not be paroled at all,” the decision said. "Have a nice day," the judge had finally said.
Lynch added the Third Department took notice of the fact that Johnson was disruptive at times in the court and even made vulgar comments. But that doesn't change anything - they still were deeply troubled by LaBuda's response.
LaBuda then "shockingly" reiterated his previous comments, and told the defendant, "Because we have learned through medicine, through science, that physical mental abuse especially at a young age will stunt the growth of the frontal lobes which prevents people from making decisions,” according to the decision. LaBuda told Johnson the sentence was a "way to make you safe from hurting yourself or others, because I appreciate the fact that your brain is not developed, through no fault of your own," the decision said.
Lynch said no objections were made to LaBuda’s comments, adding, "The most vehement objection, however, could not undo, alleviate or minimize the travesty that the court drew from a widely discredited theory when sentencing defendant. Not to be overlooked is the court's abrupt draconian order to have defendant's mouth bound with masking tape. The court's remarks cannot be condoned or countenanced."