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Pinellas judge apologizes for courtroom slur

A Pinellas County judge who called a man in his courtroom a "dago" apologized Thursday to Italian-Americans he may have offended, including his wife and in-laws.

Earlier in the day, the state Supreme Court slapped County Judge Richard W. Carr with a "public reprimand" for making the remark. Florida's courthouse watchdog, the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), recommended the action last year.

The slur came during a 1989 bat-tery trial in which Carr also complained about the man's "Italian temper." The man, 51-year-old John Anthony Orsello of Clearwater, said he was the victim in the case.

Two other Italian-Americans, a prosecutor and a court reporter, were in the courtroom at the time.

Local Italian-American clubs expressed outrage after the remark was made public recently, and some members started a petition drive to force an apology.

Carr apologized Thursday in response to the Supreme Court's action.

"I sincerely regret my unfortunate choice of words in dealing with (Orsello)," he said Thursday in a telephone interview, reading from a statement. "Judges should be, and are, held to a higher standard than those who appear before them. But being only human, we occasionally stumble and fail in our responsibilities to society and the courts."

Carr added: "I do feel that I should apologize to my many friends and others of the Italian-American community, including my wife, my daughter and my in-laws. And I assure you all that I meant no disrespect to you, because of your proud heritage."

On Dec. 15, 1989, Carr was presiding over a non-jury trial involving a fight in an Oldsmar bar. Sheriff's deputies charged Herbert J. Celler with attacking Orsello, who lost several teeth and says he never struck back because Celler is disabled.

When Carr pronounced Celler innocent, Orsello stood up to object.

At that point, according to a transcript, Carr told Orsello to sit down or be ejected from the courtroom.

He added: "Now you can throw your Italian temper around in the bars, but you don't throw them around in my courtroom. Do you understand, Mr. Orsello? I'm just as Irish as you are dago. Do you understand?"

As part of the reprimand, Carr was forced to apologize and was found guilty of violating three judicial codes of conduct. The JQC called the remark "a slur" and found he had "exhibited rude, improper and inappropriate behavior in open court."

Orsello said Thursday that the reprimand was not enough "for all the agony he put me through and all the injustice to the Italian people."

He added: "Here I'm the victim, and he turned around and made me the bad guy. I've never seen anything like this in my life and I hope I never experience anything like that again."

Carr said the remark "came at the end of a long, tedious non-jury trial where the evidence showed that the defendant _ a handicapped Vietnam veteran _ was not guilty, (was) without fault and (was) himself a victim of a vicious, unprovoked attack by (Orsello)."

He said Orsello disrupted the trial, moved toward the defendant and had to be held back by a bailiff.

Carr said he "resorted to the use of street language to get (Orsello's) attention and to regain control of the courtroom, which I did."