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D.C. Superior Court Judge Zinora Mitchell-Rankin has been chastised for her musings from the bench about El Salvador culture that triggered the reversal of a sex abuse conviction for a Salvadoran immigrant. In a ruling last week, the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure found that Mitchell-Rankin’s comments violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. The commission agreed with the D.C. Court of Appeals, which reversed the misdemeanor sexual abuse conviction of Rodrigo Mejia in February because Mitchell-Rankin’s comments suggested “an appearance of bias.” The commission concluded that no further sanctions were warranted, given Mitchell-Rankin’s 18-year “record of integrity and judicial service.” The July 9 ruling, written by Chairman William Lightfoot, explained that Mitchell-Rankin had convinced the commission that “she harbors no actual bias toward anyone on the basis of national origin or otherwise.” After a three-day bench trial in 2004, Mitchell-Rankin convicted Mejia, a legal immigrant from El Salvador, of one count of misdemeanor sexual abuse and acquitted him of a second count on charges he had fondled his 9-year-old niece. Before sentencing, Mitchell-Rankin said from the bench 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.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office has decided to retry Mejia on the one remaining sexual abuse charge in a trial scheduled next month before Superior Court Judge John Bayly Jr.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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