A suspected white supremacist on trial for fraud in Tennessee has claimed without proof that the Black judge presiding over his trial is a so-called reverse racist and must recuse himself because of that alleged bias against people suspected of white-collar crimes.
Mark Hazelwood, the former head of a major fuel and trucking company based out of Knoxville, is gearing up for his retrial on charges he conspired to defraud other trucking firms out of millions of dollars. The retrial was granted after U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier allowed audio recordings of Hazelwood using racist slurs with other executives at the Pilot Co. when he worked there.
To Hazelwood’s chagrin, though, Collier is still assigned to his retrial, prompting the former trucking tycoon to file a motion last week claiming the judge is racist against him. Hazelwood’s motion also tried to establish an inappropriate link with Collier to the powerful Haslam family that founded the Pilot Co. as well as former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
“We respectfully request that (Collier) consider whether any relationship or connection between the court and Gov. Haslam merits recusal,” the motion says in part. “We also request that (Collier) disclose any other relationships or connections to the parties, witnesses, and entities in this case.”
The motion seeks to draw attention to an alleged conflict of interest on Collier’s part.
Hazelwood has maintained his innocence.
The motion, which tries to paint Collier as having an anti-white agenda, also plays on racial stereotypes and a racist trope that Hazelwood — described as “reasonable” — and his attorneys apparently harbor when it comes to these types of criminal cases.
“A reasonable person could conclude from (Collier’s past) statements that (Collier) assigns more moral blame to white-collar defendants than, for example, drug dealers,” the motion also says.
It added: “A reasonable person could believe that the government poisoned the well by conjuring an image that would be highly galling to the court: a racist, white-collar offender. The recordings had nothing whatsoever to do with the offenses with which Mr. Hazelwood was charged.”
Hazelwood’s pending retrial comes more than three years after he was convicted in the first trial. But an appellate court threw out his conviction because Collier allowed jurors to hear Hazelwood’s racist recording.
Now, Collier — an HBCU graduate who the appellate court ruled was not biased to preside over the retrial — is the one person who gets to decide whether he will stay on the case, leaving Hazelwood desperately trying to get the judge to recuse himself.
“I deserve to have a judge who has not already judged me, clearly believing I am a ‘typical’ white-collar defendant and a racist one at that,” Hazelwood wrote to the court.
Collier, who graduated from Tennessee State University before earning his Juris Doctor’s degree from the Duke University School of Law in 1974, has been recognized as one of the most significant members of Omega Psi Phi in its first 100 years and is the recipient of the NAACP Chattanooga Chapter Thurgood Marshall Award, among other honors. He is also the first Black federal judge in the Eastern District of Tennessee and the second Black federal judge in Tennessee.