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Surprise, Surprise: Fox News Smears Black Judge Presiding Over Manafort Case, Digs Up Son’s Criminal Past

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Judge Deborah A. Robinson was sworn in as a magistrate judge in 1988. (Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP Images)

Fox News was slammed this week after what critics saw as the network’s attempt to sully the credibility of a Black female judge presiding over the case of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson oversaw Manafort and Manafort associate Rick Gate’s first court appearance Monday, Oct. 30, kicking off the first set of indictments in the federal probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. It took very little time, however, for the right-wing network to report unflattering details of Robinson’s personal and professional life that were wholly unrelated to her role in the case.

In an article published Tuesday, Fox News mentioned Robinson’s track record, noting that she’d presided over a list of “big-name” clients, including former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and retired NBA player Allen Iverson. The anonymous author (the article does not have a byline) also took the time to highlight that the seasoned magistrate “has experienced the criminal justice system firsthand — when her son was convicted of dealing heroin.”

“In 2014, she watched her son … get led away in handcuffs after he was sentenced to five years in federal prison for possession of heroin and intent to distribute,” the article stated.

The backlash was swift, with critics taking to social media to blast the network for its unfair and biased coverage. Some pointed out the fact that “Faux News” wasn’t looking to dig up anyone else’s dirt — just the black woman’s.

This is not the first time conservatives have tried to silence and/or discredit judges of color, however. It’s part of a larger pattern that has forced nonwhite magistrates like Robinson to deal with the scrutiny of their private lives after their “dirty laundry” is aired out in public. Sometimes, even a judge’s heritage is enough for some to question their credentials.

Just last year, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump drew ire from both sides of the political aisle when he said Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s “Mexican heritage” presented a “conflict of interest” in his hearing of two cases against Trump University. The now-president was an outspoken proponent of tougher immigration laws and even proposed building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The question of a judge’s racial/ethnic background also came into play when lawyers for ex-Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was acquitted in the deadly shooting of Philando Castile, asked that Ramsey County Judge Edward Wilson be removed from the case. State law didn’t require the former lawyers to give a reason for axing Wilson, who is Black.

The Fox News coverage also sheds light on the fact that nonwhite female judges are and have been severely underrepresented on the federal bench for some time now. Citing data from the National Women’s Law Center, Mic reported that women of color represent just 10.5 percent of judges. The nation’s law schools are becoming more diverse, however.

Robinson was sworn in as a federal judge in 1988 after serving as a clerk for the chief judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. She’s a graduate of the historically Black Morgan State University and attended the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.

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