Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Jim Lammey recently has been the center of public controversy surrounding his social media posts. Lammey shared articles and posts suggesting Jews should “get the f — over the Holocaust,” referring to Muslims as “foreign mud,” alleging “illegal aliens” voted in the 2018 midterm elections and blaming immigrants for the majority of crimes.
Sadly, reports of public officials spreading derogatory messages are no longer surprising. These public servants often face few consequences or condemnation for sharing hateful messages. This is especially worrisome when that person is a judge, arbiters tasked with providing fair judgment to parties, while maintaining the integrity and objectivity of the court. We now must question Lammey’s ability to execute his role on the criminal court.
We raise that question now because the silence from the Memphis legal community compels us to do so.
As students of law and judicial process at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, we need guidance from the Memphis legal community to process Lammey’s actions. We thought the unique role of lawyers was the ability to advocate for justice and act when injustice rears its ugly head. The inaction by the Memphis legal community only reminds us that silence in response to injustice is an act of complicit violence.
The integrity of judges gives credence to their decisions and allows for faith in the judicial system to persist. But what of a judge who destroys that public trust by sharing personal negative and wrongheaded beliefs about religious and ethnic groups? We do not know the damage Lammey may have already done in light of his demonstrable self-proclaimed biases. We suspect the lack of chastisement from the local bar will only inflame these biases in decisions going forward. If we allow open expressions of bias by Lammey to occur in our midst, our entire system of justice and equality is diminished. The one positive of this problematic behavior is confirmation that, as students, we must be steadfast in our own professional pursuit of equality, equity and justice.
If we allow open expressions of bias by Lammey to occur in our midst, our entire system of justice and equality is diminished.
In the legal profession, reputation matters. From the first day of orientation in law school, we learn the importance of cultivating and maintaining a positive one, including our social media presence. We zealously monitor our social media use on myriad platforms from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and Instagram to ensure it reflects our professionalism and character. The lack of public condemnation from the Memphis legal community, though we imagine there were whispers in the halls of justice, sends a mixed message to aspiring lawyers and harms the reputation of the entire legal community.
So why does the Memphis legal community remain silent in condemning Judge Lammey’s actions? The county commission’s censure sent a clear message, and the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct will eventually respond to complaints. We, the students of the University of Memphis School of Law, collectively and in solidarity also openly acknowledge the misgivings of Lammey’s behavior. Sadly, we sign this letter nameless as we do not want to remain jobless upon graduation. It is because of this that the lack of voice from the local bar admonishing his actions is most disappointing. Nevertheless, we think it important to communicate publicly that Lammey’s views, as a Memphis graduate with strong influence, do not comport with the ideals of the students at Memphis School of Law.
As future members of the Memphis legal community, we value justice, equality and fairness above all else. We believe diversity, inclusion and respect for each member of our community only enhances our community. We celebrate our unique backgrounds, whether based on culture, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. And we assure you that we will remain vigilant in propelling the community forward by reasserting these values in the face of vitriol directed at minority groups.
*17 students of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law
*Some students who agree with the letter were advised by members of the Memphis legal community NOT to add their name as a precaution against a potential leak. They cited the potential damage to their future legal career.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Southern Documentary Project and Community Change.