A look back at the history of UNC’s Silent Sam
An Orange County judge will no longer hear Silent Sam cases following comments she made comparing the Confederate statue to Adolf Hitler and placing blame for the conflict on UNC-Chapel Hill.
In October, District Court Judge Beverly Scarlett found a pro-Confederate protester guilty of punching an anti-Silent Sam student protester during a rally on the university’s campus over the summer. But Scarlett said she wouldn’t punish Barry Brown for the misdemeanor simple assault, because the “university is the proximate cause of this conflict.”
“I ask the leadership of the university if your goal is to teach a diverse community of students, what are you doing to assure that all students feel emotionally and physically safe?” Scarlett said at the time.
“Another interesting question: What is the difference in the Silent Sam statue and a statue of Adolf Hitler?” she asked. “Is human suffering not a common denominator?”
She continued, “Moreover, where are the statues of the numerous people of color who worked to construct the buildings at the university? Where is the statue of Thomas Day who built the cabinetry for the university’s first library? To the university, isn’t there a more enlightened way to celebrate the contributions of all?”
Scarlett received a phone call after the October hearing from the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission, said Orange County Chief District Court Judge Joseph Buckner.
Scarlett informed him about the phone call and told him not to schedule her for any more Silent Sam cases, Buckner said.
“She said they told her she probably should not hear any more of those cases,” Buckner said.
Dozens of people were arrested last year during rallies near the statue, which protesters tore down Aug. 20. Their charges include resisting police, assault and concealing their faces during a public rally. Some of the cases have already gone through the court system, but others are awaiting trial.
In an email, Scarlett referred questions to the Judicial Standards Commission.
Carolyn Dubay, executive director of the commission, said representatives routinely provide informal advice to judges on their obligations under the Code of Judicial Conduct. The commission also would reach out to a judge during an investigation into a complaint, she said.
Under state law, the commission can’t comment on complaints unless they result in public disciplinary action by the N.C. Supreme Court. The commission also doesn’t comment on informal advice provided to judges, she said.
The code advises judges to refrain from making statements in a case that might come before them at a later time, and to avoid a conflict of interest and the appearance of a conflict of interest, Buckner said.
From 2007 to 2013, the Judicial Standards Commission had the statutory authority to issue public reprimands. In 2011, Scarlett received one of the 17 reprimands listed on the commission’s website — for escalating “a personal disagreement” with an attorney into an “unauthorized judicial proceeding,” and other actions, it stated.
Scarlett, a former prosecutor in Orange and Chatham counties, was appointed to judge by former N.C. Gov. Mike Easley in 2007, according to Ballotpedia. She was re-elected in 2012 and 2016.