Got Dreadlocks? The Judge Gehl Story

I'm fixing to go off on Steve "Gasbag" Geller (maybe this afternoon), but first I think we need to talk about Broward County Judge Peggy Gehl.

Gehl was recently criticized for what Public Defender Howard Finkelstein in a letter called racist, demeaning, and inappropriate statements. Maybe so, but they are also entertaining as hell -- the woman was apparently a stereotype-slinging sensation.

During her birthday party last year in a jury room, Judge Gehl needed a light for the candles on her cake, according to Finkelstein. She turned, naturally, to Jamaican-American assistant public defender Ghenete Wright Muir and said, "You have a light." Muir said, no, actually she doesn't. Gehl said that she must have one because she smokes. No, I don't smoke, said Muir. "Yes, you do smoke, because you have dreadlocks," Gehl told her.

Can you picture this? An older white female judge insinuating to a young go-getting black female lawyer that she must be a pot smoker? Wright Muir, by the way, was recently a candidate for the Sunrise City Commission (her campaign video is included after the jump). 

What ignorance. What pigeonholing. What prejudice. Peggy Gehl, you're amazing.

It gets a little more serious, though, when you look at Gehl on the bench. When Wright Muir was defending a Jamaican man on a misdemeanor charge, she asked Gehl to 

withhold adjudication so the man wouldn't be deported. Gehl then "yelled she did not care and screamed, 'Go back to Jamaica! Go back to Jamaica!'" Finkelstein wrote in his letter.

Gehl later recused herself from the case, thankfully. But how did Gehl's apparent predisposition against Jamaicans affect her rulings in other cases? We may never know.

Let's not forget that Gehl is a member of the Judicial Qualifications Commission. She was one of the Broward County contingent that didn't show up for a hearing regarding their colleague, Ana Gardiner, whose last day on the bench is tomorrow after her resignation.

And it wasn't just Jamaicans that Gehl knew all about. She also specialized in the personal habits of Mexicans. During a DUI case also involving a possible deportation, a private attorney told Gehl that Mexicans were some of the hardest-working people on Earth. "But Mexicans do love their beer," Gehl said. 

Cervezas, corrected the lawyer. Yes, cervezas, said Gehl.

OK, so Jamaicans are potheads who need to go back to their own country, and Mexicans are beer swillers. Any other stereotypes, Judge Gehl? Of course there are, this time concerning Gehl's astute observation concerning Jews.

Seems that Gehl, while awaiting the return of a jury, was trying to figure out the ethnicity of Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Wright Muir offered that it sounded Irish. The prosecutor (who goes unnamed) looked it up on the internet and found that Kagan was, in fact, Jewish.

"Oh, the Jews are the smartest!" Gehl said, according to Finkelstein.

Gehl, who recently retired, needs a reality show. It would be a great hit. Just so long as she doesn't return to the bench (you know how our Broward judges love to retire, get their pension rolling, and then come back to work for a nice double-dip).

Here's Wright Muir's campaign vid:

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman