Thursday, September 22, 2016

Massachusetts Supreme Court Upholds Rulings In Landlord's Assault On Muslim Tenant

In Commonwealth v. Obi, (MA Sup Jud Ct, Sept 21, 2016), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a series of rulings by a trial court judge in the criminal trial of a female landlord for assault and battery after she pushed a tenant, who is Muslim, down a flight of stairs. Defendant Daisy Obi, described by the court as "a septuagenarian Christian minister," had  history of harassing tenants, but in this case she also made a number of anti-Muslim statements to tenant Gilhan Suliman with whom she had a number of landlord-tenant issues.

After a jury trial, the trial judge sentenced Obi to 6 months in jail and 18 months probation with two special conditions: (1) she must disclose to prospective tenants that she had been convicted of assaulting a tenant and she had several previous harassment prevention orders issued against her, and (2) she must attend an introductory class on Islam. The court upheld the disclosure requirement, and refused to consider Obi's challenge to the requirement she attend a class on Islam since objections to it were not raised at trial. However the court observed:
conditions of probation that touch on religion and risk incursion upon constitutionally protected interests should be imposed only with great circumspection.
Finally the Court upheld the trial judge's refusal to allow defendant to exercise a peremptory challenge against a juror who wore a headscarf of the type commonly worn by Muslim women.