A day after he made headlines for erupting in anger at the prosecution in Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial, Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder continued to draw attention, criticism and accusations of bias.
On Thursday, the judge sparked backlash by making a quip about “Asian food.” And his attempt to honor veterans led the courtroom to applaud a man who appeared to be the only veteran in the room: A witness for the defense.
The longest serving current judge in Wisconsin, Schroeder previously garnered national attention and accusations of favor to the defense in late October when he said the people shot by Rittenhouse couldn’t be called “victims” during the trial.
Barring the use of “victims” is a regular part of his courtroom practices. But his decision to allow the same people to be called “rioters, looters and arsonists” began a pattern of Rittenhouse’s critics blasting the judge as biased and Rittenhouse’s supporters celebrating the judge’s decisions.
While accusations of bias have mounted during the trial, Kyle Rittenhouse’s mom said Thursday she thought the judge was “very fair.”
Wendy Rittenhouse told FOX News Channel’s Sean Hannity she had been told by locals that “he doesn’t allow no nonsense in his courtroom.”
Those comments came as Schroeder’s latest controversy gained national attention. On Thursday he attempted a joke in response to an inquiry about a lunch break: “I hope the Asian food isn’t coming … isn’t on one of those boats along Long Beach Harbor,” he said.
The comment seemingly referenced the situation unfolding on the West Coast, where a record-breaking number of cargo ships have waited off the coast of California due to a backup at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Critics found the joke offensive.
“The biased judge in the Rittenhouse trial just made a thinly-veiled anti-Asian comment,” tweeted Stanford law professor Michele Dauber. “Because all Asian food comes from China like the boats haha what a bigot.”
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, used the clip to criticize the judge and the judicial system that led him to preside over the trial: “Schroeder has provided an example of how not to be a good judge. The selection system in Wisconsin is also badly flawed,” he tweeted.
“They are elected after initial appointment and there is no retirement age. This is why we have intemperate and unfit judges like this all over the country.”
In a separate incident at the start of proceedings on Veterans Day, Schroeder asked the courtroom if anyone was a veteran. The only person who replied “yes” was expert witness John Black.
Schroeder asked Black, “What branch?”
Black responded “Army, sir.”
“OK, and I think we can give a round of applause to the people who have served our country,” said Schroeder.
The judge clapped. People in the gallery also began to applaud, including a defense attorney and Rittenhouse.
Recognizing veterans is not out of character for Schroeder, who wore a tie Thursday emblazoned with American flags and whose phone ringtone, as heard in court, is “God Bless the U.S.A.”
But Schroeder risked making Black appear more credible to the jury by asking for applause, according to Steven Wright, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Law. Wright thought the moment was a mistake on the judge’s part.
However, the issue is unlikely to be scrutinized, whatever the trial’s outcome.
If jurors find Rittenhouse not guilty, there’s likely no appeal. If they find him guilty, Schroeder’s mistake could only be seen as an aid to Rittenhouse rather than a point of argument on appeal, Wright said.
While critics on social media have frequently targeted the judge, other pundits have argued the prosecution has bungled aspects of the Rittenhouse case.
“Some have criticized Judge Bruce Schroeder after he enforced long-standing constitutional principles,” wrote Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, in a USA TODAY opinion column.
“Even without the unforced errors by the prosecution, this was always a difficult case. Wisconsin has a strong self-defense standard. After a defendant claims to have acted to repel a threat, the burden is on the prosecution to rebut that claim beyond a reasonable doubt.”
By Drake Bentley and Joel Shannon | USA TODAY