A controversial Norfolk traffic court judge has created a storm of protest by ordering a young orthodox Jewish rabbi to remove his skullcap in court.
Rabbi Joshua Sackett, 24, who had come to Judge Vernon D. Hitchings' traffic court to protest a parking ticket, was first told by a bailiff to remove his yarmulke, the skullcap worn by Orthodox Jews.
When the rabbi objected, saying the skullcap was a religious symbol, Hitching told him: "I don't care what your religion is...you're going to take that hat off in my courtroom."
Norman Olshansky of Richmond, director of the Anti-Defamation League of Virginia and North Caroline, called the incident "an absolute travesty of justice and a blatant violation of religious liberties. We were shocked to say the least. The judge owes the rabbi a formal apology."
Sackett, who teaches at the Hebrew Academy of Tidewater, said he reluctantly removed the cap for about a minute, which was the time it took for Hitchings to hear and dismiss his case. But the rabbi said yesterday, "I most definitely regret it (removing the cap).
"I was just shocked and it was my first time ever in a courtroom," he said. "My people have stood up to a lot harsher pressures than this over the years."
Sackett said he is considering filing a complaint with the state Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission. Hitchings' secretary said he was not available for comment yesterday.
A previous complaint was lodged with the commission, against Hitchings last year by a Norfolk woman whom the judge cited for contempt of court after she wrote a letter to a newspaper describing his court as "a three-ring circus."
Hitchings dismissed that contempt citation after it provoked angry reactions from Norfolk residents and civil libertarians. CAPTION: Picture 1, JOSHUA SACKETT...bows to judge's command; Picture 2, VERNON D. HITCHINGS...his order protested