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D.C. Superior Court Judge Zinora Mitchell-Rankin’s fumbled attempt at understanding El Salvadoran culture has resulted in the reversal of a misdemeanor sexual-abuse conviction. In a Feb. 1 opinion, the D.C. Court of Appeals did not find actual bias by Mitchell-Rankin but found that “an appearance of bias to an informed, objective observer might exist, and the integrity of the judicial process compromised.” After a three-day bench trial in 2004, Mitchell-Rankin convicted Rodrigo Mejia, a legal immigrant from El Salvador, of misdemeanor sexual abuse for fondling his niece. Before sentencing, Mitchell-Rankin said she knew that “in countries like El Salvador” there are “very young girls who are 12 and 13, 14 and 15, who are married of black descent.” She added: “I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s cultural in general, that all people feel this way. But I have not been real clear about the issue of sexualizing young girls at a very early age and whether or not any of that is happening and whether or not that’s part and parcel of, of what was going on here.” In the appeal, the D.C. Public Defender Service stated that Mitchell-Rankin “displayed an actual or apparent bias against Mejia due to his national origin.”
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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