(ATLANTA, GA, 7/30/18) - The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Georgia) today welcomed the City of Sandy Springs' decision to vacate the jail sentence imposed by a judge who attacked an Iranian-American nursing student's heritage after a trial last year. The city also reached a new plea agreement with Mr. Fazial Azizan that requires him to serve two months of probation.
"We are relieved that justice was done in this case," said attorney Jason McLendon, whose law firm--The McLendon Firm--represented Mr. Azizan during his appeal to the Fulton County Superior Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals.
In a statement, CAIR-Georgia Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said:
"We welcome the city's decision to overturn the judge's sentence, which was fatally tainted by her expression of bigotry. This should not have been a hard decision for Sandy Springs to make. Bigotry has no place in our society, much less our courts. When a judge attacks a defendant's national origin from the bench, that judge's ruling cannot stand.
"The judge in this case should have understood that. So should prosecuting attorney Bill Riley of RileyMcLendon LLC, the law firm that Sandy Springs employs to prosecute municipal violations. The prosecutor did not object when Judge Dickson attacked Mr. Azizan's Iranian heritage. Also, an attorney with Riley McLendon resigned in 2017 after coming under investigation for allegedly posting anti-Muslim statements on Facebook.
"Going forward, the City of Sandy Springs should reconsider its relationship with Riley McLendon LLC, as well as Judge Dickson."
Last week, CAIR Georgia filed an amicus brief with the Georgia Court of Appeals in support of the McLendon Law Firm's request that the Court permit an appeal of Judge Dickson's ruling.
After overseeing a 2017 bench trial in which Mr. Azizan's Iranian heritage was mentioned at least six times, Municipal Court Judge Sharon Dickson found him guilty of Disorderly Conduct and sentenced him to five months imprisonment.
While issuing her ruling, Judge Dickson made numerous overly hostile, biased and bigoted remarks, including:
- “You’re not talking now. You don’t get to talk. It’s my turn. Okay? But I know where you come from, women don’t mean anything. Okay? But that’s not how it works here. Okay? You can look up or you don’t have to. It’s up to you. I mean, I’m just a woman. I’m only a woman who is wearing a robe today. Doesn’t really matter. I get this. This is who you are.”
- “So when you live in a free society, you have a responsibility. You don’t just have freedom.”
- “You need to go to jail. You are despicable to me.”
- “This is shameful. You are a small person on the inside, Mr. Azizan. You have no regard for anyone else.”
Mr. Azizan represented himself during his bench trial. The McLendon Law Firm (which is unrelated to Riley McLendon, the city's prosecuting law firm) handled his appeal. In a ruling last month, the Fulton County Superior Court described Judge Dickson's anti-Iranian remarks as "objectionable" and "wholly inappropriate," but upheld her ruling because she made the remarks during sentencing, as opposed to during the trial.
The McLendon Law Firm responded by asking the Court of Appeals to permit an appeal of the Fulton County Superior Court ruling. CAIR Georgia's amicus brief was filed in support of that request. The City of Sandy Springs reversed course on Friday, July 27th, agreeing to vacate the jail sentence and impose a new sentence of probation on Mr. Azizan.