Judge under fire for alleged comments to Muslim defendant

A Muslim rights group plans to file a formal complaint against the judge.

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — A Muslim rights group plans to file a formal complaint against a Sandy Springs City judge after she allegedly unleashed an anti-Islamic tirade on a man she convicted and was about to sentence.

Fazain Azizan told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik he was driving an Uber customer last fall when his fiancée crashed into his car near the intersection of Hammond and Glenridge drives.

Azizan told Petchenik he was injured and needed medical attention, but the ambulance driver refused to take him to a hospital that accepted his insurance, so he got into an argument with him.

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In dashcam video obtained by Petchenik, the EMT can be heard complaining about Azizan to an officer who responded to the accident.

“I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with this guy and now the back of our ambulance stinks of alcohol and he’s really starting to (expletive) me off,” the EMT said. “He’s being belligerent.”

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A DUI task force officer later confirmed Azizan was not drunk, but based on the EMT’s complaint, the officer arrested Azizan for misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

The officer took him to the hospital before going to the North Fulton Jail annex where he sat for nearly three hours, he told Petchenik.

“Remember, I’m the victim of an accident and at the same time, I’m being handcuffed,” he told Petchenik. “Going to the jail, the whole time I was just in a state of shock and crying. I didn’t do nothing.”

Azizan told Petchenik he came to the United States as a political refugee from Iran, going to an American jail gave him PTSD.

“I was doing humanitarian activity inside Iran. I was caught, arrested and I was tortured by secret service by the police in Iran and that’s why I came here, to exercise my freedom,“ he said.

When Azizan appeared before Sandy Springs Municipal Judge Sharon Dickson, he said he expected redemption.

“My hope was the judge and the justice system of America,” he said. “After she hears me, she’s going to understand me and dismiss the charges.”

During the trial, a transcript obtained by Petchenik shows City Solicitor Bill Riley portrayed Azizan as having been difficult to everyone, including his own Uber passenger.

“Mr. Azizan resisted being cuffed and did not comply with the commands of the officers. He resisted and he threatened Ms. Thurman and put her in fear of her safety. He did not comply with the … he interfered with the occupation of the EMTs by his disorderly behavior,” Riley said.

Riley said Azizan had threatened the Uber passenger when she told him to calm down while he had an argument with his fiancée on the phone moments before the crash.

When it came time for the judge to weigh in, Azizan, who was representing himself, said he was shocked by her comments.

“I was mistreated, absolutely mistreated by the comments,” he said. “I was almost sure I wasn’t getting a fair trial.”

According to a transcript, Dickson appeared to take exception with Azizan’s heritage:

“You have been here eight years as a refugee because there was no law where you came from. You wanted to be in a free country. You want freedom. You don’t want your freedom suspended for no reason. Being arrested was a real surprise for you."

After Azizan tried to interrupt her, Dickson stopped him in his tracks:

"You're not talking now. You don't get to talk. It's my turn, OK. But, I know where you came from, women don’t mean anything. Ok? But that’s not how it works here. Ok? 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 matter. I get this. This is who you are. So, when you live in a free society, you have responsibility. You don’t just have freedom. Freedom exists because people follow rules. You need to go to jail. You are despicable to me."

Dickson ultimately sentenced Azizan to five months in jail. Misdemeanor charges can carry up to one year in jail.

“I was shocked when I saw what Judge Dickson said to Mr. Azizan,” said Jason McLendon, an attorney who is now representing Azizan as he appeals the conviction and sentence. “I think the comments she directed at Mr. Azizan and the sentence that he received that they go hand in hand. I don’t think there’s any mystery as to why he received that sentence.”

Last month, Fulton County Judge Constance Russell upheld the conviction and sentence, discounting that Dickson’s alleged bias played a role in the sentencing, but admonishing her for the language.

“The record shows that over the course of the trial, the trial judge was courteous to both sides. The comments cited in the present case were clearly intemperate and inappropriate,” she wrote in her order. “While the judge’s assumptions about the petitioner based upon her assumptions about Iranian culture led to remarks that were objectionable and wholly inappropriate, the record does not support the conclusion that the judge’s ruling on the merits of the case was affected by the views she expressed after the pronouncement of the final decision.”

McLendon disagreed and plans to appeal the decision to a higher court.

“I believe justice is for Mr. Azizan’s case to be reversed so he can be tried in front of a neutral judge and not a judge that harbors bias against people from Iran,” he said.

A lawyer for the Georgia Chapter of the Council on American/Islamic Relations (CAIR) said his organization will file a formal complaint against Dickson with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which governs sitting judges.

“It was very clear of a bias against anyone from Iran and there’s no place for that in the justice system,” said Murtaza Khwaja. “Our justice system guarantees the right to a trial devoid of any prejudice or discrimination and that’s something that didn’t happen in this instance.”

Petchenik contacted the city of Sandy Springs for comment, and a spokeswoman sent him a statement from Mayor Rusty Paul:

“We try to keep our city court independent without political involvement. There is a clear separation of powers, much like the federal level. I would not have said those comments, and I disagree with them, but the Superior Court of Fulton County found that the judgment rendered by Judge Dickson was not improper.”