CLOVIS, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico judge is accused of making offensive jokes about a racism scandal while on the job. The public defender’s office wants him off the bench, but he’s fighting back.
“Disrespectful,” said Jacqueline Austin.
“I personally think it’s very rude,” said Melissa Underwood.
That’s what people in Clovis are saying about District Court Judge Fred Van Soelen. The long-time lawyer is accused of making offensive jokes while on the bench earlier this month about a viral racist video.
The video shows members of the SAE fraternity at the University of Oklahoma singing a racial chant.
The public defender’s office says an assistant public defender overheard Van Soelen joking about the chant with prosecutors following a hearing in his courtroom.
They say he told the prosecutor, “The frat just should have been smarter than to allow a chant to be videotaped” and “it would have been funnier 30 years ago.”
“Those insensitive and troubling statements are very concerning,” said Ninth Judicial District Defender Chandler Blair.
The public defender’s office wants Van Soelen removed from all of their cases. Officials said his comments are unacceptable.
“I know if I were a client and I were appearing before a judge I would be very concerned if there was an allegation of this nature,” said Blair.
KRQE News 13 went to the Curry County courthouse Wednesday to speak with Judge Van Soelen. He was not available, so KRQE News 13 asked to speak with the chief judge, but security wouldn’t let crews past the front steps.
In a letter to the public defender’s office Van Soelen said he was talking about the racist chant on the stand, but he denies ever making any offensive comments. He said in the letter, “I do not think that way.”
Another letter from the prosecutor said Van Soelen was taken out of context. He said Van Soelen actually called the video disgusting and inappropriate.
The letter from Van Soelen also addressed the 30-years-ago statement. According to the judge, he was saying the kids might have gotten away with the chant back then.