An Iranian-American’s five-month jail sentence was vacated one week after he filed an appeal accusing the Sandy Springs judge who sentenced him of harboring anti-Islamic bias.
Municipal Court Judge Sharon Dickson recently came under fire for remarks she made during Fazial Azizan’s sentencing last year. According to court transcripts, Dickson referenced the nursing student’s heritage multiple times, questioned his respect for women and called him “despicable.”
"We welcome the city's decision to overturn the judge's sentence, which was fatally tainted by her expression of bigotry,” said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the director of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights advocacy group. “This should not have been a hard decision for Sandy Springs to make. Bigotry has no place in our society, much less our courts. When a judge attacks a defendant's national origin from the bench, that judge's ruling cannot stand.”
Azizan was on trial for misdemeanor disorderly conduct after a crash in his Uber car last spring. A customer was in the back seat at the time of the accident near the intersection of Hammond and Glenridge drives, Channel 2 Action News reported.
Azizan told the news station he was not at fault, but after being treated for his injuries, he was detained.
Azizan said he needed medical attention, but the ambulance driver refused to take him to a hospital that accepted his insurance. At some point, the two argued, he told Channel 2.
In dashcam video obtained by Channel 2, the emergency medical technician 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.”
Based on the EMT’s remarks, Azizan was removed from the ambulance and later arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct, according to Channel 2. He was held for three hours at the North Fulton jail annex.
A DUI task force officer later confirmed Azizan was not drunk, the news station reported.
“Remember, I’m the victim of an accident and at the same time, I’m being handcuffed,” he told Channel 2. “Going to the jail, the whole time I was just in a state of shock and crying. I didn’t do nothing.”
When he came before the Sandy Springs Municipal Court last July, he represented himself. Azizan thought he could clear his name, he told Channel 2.
He was convicted during the bench trial. Before she handed down the sentence, the judge called Azizan “a threat to everyone who wants to catch Uber” and referenced Azizan’s Islamic heritage at least six times, according to CAIR. At one point, he tried to interrupt her, and Dickson fired back.
“But I know where you come from, women don’t mean anything. OK? But that’s not how it works here. OK?” she said. “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 really matter. I get this. This is who you are.”
Azizan had appealed first to the Fulton County Superior Court, which found Dickson’s remarks “objectionable” and “wholly inappropriate” but upheld her ruling. Then he appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, and on July 24, the Muslim rights group filed a friend of the court brief on his behalf.
Three days later, the city of Sandy Springs vacated the ruling and sentenced Azizan to two months of probation.
"We are relieved that justice was done in this case," said attorney Jason McLendon, whose law firm represented Azizan during his appeal.
The future of the judge remains unclear, but CAIR is calling on Sandy Springs to re-evaluate its relationship with Dickson as well as the prosecuting attorney who did not intervene when she made her remarks.