By Andy Sheehan

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Several defendants jailed on probation violations by an embattled Pittsburgh judge are being released in wake of the judge’s alleged racist comments.

Judge Mark Tranquilli was re-assigned for allegedly making racist comments in a closed-door conference.

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Now Judge David Cashman is signing paperwork, freeing people who Tranquilli ordered to be locked up.

During his last days on the bench, Common Pleas Judge Tranquilli detained or jailed close to three dozen people for allegedly violating the terms of their probation.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: Are you finding that they were in there without cause or improperly?

Cashman: I wouldn’t say improperly. I have a difference of opinion as to whether I would have put them in.

A memorandum obtained by KDKA lays out what Tranquilli said behind closed doors.

In a closed-door meeting with a defense attorney and an assistant district attorney, Tranquilli is quoted as calling a black woman juror “Aunt Jemima” and muses about her having a drug-dealing “baby daddy” at home.

In recent days, Cashman said he has reviewed 25-30 of these detainers and has decided to release close to a dozen defendants.

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan asked the judge if Tranquilli had been overly aggressive in putting them in jail in the first place.

“I don’t know if I’d say overly aggressive. I think he would err on the side of being a law enforcement officer,” Cashman said.

Sheehan: Do you anticipate there will be a lot of appeals now of his previous convictions?

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Cashman: Unfortunately, I do.


In his written statement, Assistant DA Ted Dutkowski said he was so sickened by Tranquilli’s remarks that he wished to leave the judge’s chambers and was moved to write a complaint detailing what was said.

The closed-door conference came at the conclusion of a drug trial two weeks ago in which Dutkowski said Tranquilli “was not happy” the jury rendered a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

In chambers, Tranquilli questioned the assistant DA about why he had not moved to strike or block a black woman juror during jury selection weeks before.

“You weren’t out of strikes when you decided to put Aunt Jemima on the jury,” Tranquilli is alleged to say.

The document alleges Tranquilli said of the woman who had her hair in a headdress, “As soon as she sat down, she crossed her arms and looked like this.”

Dutokwski said the judge then crossed his arms and scowled, then continued: “You know darn well that when she goes home to her baby daddy, he’s probably slinging heroin too.”

The question remains how many of Tranquilli’s case decisions will be appealed and how many will be reversed.

Judge Cashman says he’s already getting motions from defendants challenging the sentences that Tranquilli handed down.

The DA’s office gave the memorandum to President Judge Kim Berkley Clark, who issued an order temporarily re-assigning Tranquilli to summary appeals, where he will review magistrate cases ranging from traffic fines to truancy.

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According to a report prepared by the Pennsylvania Commission on sentencing, Tranquilli has been tougher on white defendants than on blacks. The commission figures find Tranquilli’s record to be in the mainstream with his fellow judges in the sentencing of black defendants and defendants overall.