Erie County judge apologizes for e-mail joke
Tuesday was a depressing day to be in Erie County Judge Michael E. Dunlavey’s courtroom, Dunlavey said.
So when someone e-mailed Dunlavey a joke on Wednesday that riffed on Eddie Murphy’s “Saturday Night Live” Buckwheat skits — which Dunlavey had enjoyed — he quickly forwarded it to court colleagues who, he thought, might need a dose of humor.
Dunlavey said he now realizes the joke, which contained a reference to Islam, might not have seemed funny, particularly to Muslims.
He sent an apology to the joke’s recipients on Thursday.
“Although I have not heard from anyone who may have been offended by it, in reflection I can see where it may have been. For those who may have been or were offended, please accept my sincere apologies. That certainly wasn’t the intent and it was designed to lighten the mood after a contentious and often frustrating series of hearings the day before,” he wrote.
The joke had been sent from Dunlavey’s Erie County e-mail address to Dunlavey’s fellow judges, Erie County Adult Probation, the county’s court reporters and the former head of the Erie County Veterans’ Affairs office. It was titled “Muslim Convert (humor.)”
It read: “It was announced today that Buckwheat, of Our Gang fame, has converted to the Muslim faith and changed his name to Kareem of Wheat. I just hope he doesn’t become a cereal killer.”
In his note to the recipients, Dunlavey said, “After everything that happened in my courtroom yesterday morning I thought this humor could explain it.”
Dunlavey said there were no Muslims in his court on Tuesday, just defendants offering absurd excuses for failing to appear for court.
The strangest was a man who said he did not appear in court to face a felony theft charge because he was applying for a job in Warren because his girlfriend’s children might have to go into foster care because of a problem with the Erie County Office of Children and Youth, and he needed money for a lawyer and to show he was a responsible father, Dunlavey said.
The crime that the man did not appear to answer to, Dunlavey said, was a charge that the man stole a $4,500 French bulldog puppy from the Millcreek Mall. The man said he did not do it. He said someone put the dog in his child’s backpack, Dunlavey said. The man, who appeared in court without a lawyer, also, on the record, began rattling off information about other unsolved crimes, while an Erie County public defender who was in the room tried to make him stop before he incriminated himself, Dunlavey said.
“I was coming off Memorial Day, which to me is an incredibly emotional day because of all my friends who are not with me anymore,” said Dunlavey, a retired two-star general in the U.S. Army Reserve who fought in Vietnam.
“All the things we fought for, all these services we provide to people and we’re here talking about a $4,500 puppy” and “a kid being used to steal it,” he said describing his mindset.
Dunlavey, a military intelligence expert, served as the head of interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay prison for suspected terror suspects in 2002. That and his extensive travel during his military service has probably made him more aware of Islamic culture than anyone in the court, he said.
Dunlavey said Friday he was thinking of Eddie Murphy and not Islam when he forwarded the joke.
Upon reflection, he said, he realized that Muslims would not be aware of the Murphy skit and would likely be offended by the joke.
President Judge Ernest J. DiSantis Jr., one of the e-mail’s recipients, said Thursday that knowing Dunlavey, he did not believe that Dunlavey meant to offend anyone with the e-mail.
Nonetheless, he said, he felt the joke was inappropriate. He said two of the county’s other eight judges had expressed concerns to him about the e-mail.
DiSantis said he found Dunlavey’s apology both “sincere and appropriate.”
LISA THOMPSON can be reached at 870-1802 or by e-mail.
Original post: Erie County judge apologizes for e-mail joke