Judge Using Phrase 'China Virus' Asked to Apologize Amid Rise in Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

An Ohio judge was asked to apologize after he used the term "China virus" in a newsletter. The backlash came as studies found the term led to a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.

Lake County Common Pleas Court Judge John P. O'Donnell used the term "China virus" three times in a column in the Lake Legal Views, the county bar association's newsletter, addressing how he handled his duties during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lake County Bar Association distributed the edition of the Lake Legal Views newsletter to its members on Wednesday. O'Donnell's comments garnered significant criticism from the local legal community soon after circulation.

The Asian American Bar Association of Ohio released a statement on Friday denouncing O'Donnell's word choice and said the term had "discriminatory and xenophobic connotations associated with it."

"Using the term 'China virus' to describe the coronavirus and COVID-19 is inaccurate and unacceptable," the statement read. "Our organization, and community-at-large, is deeply troubled by the use of such discriminatory and racially-charged language by a member of the judiciary, particularly at a time when stereotypes associated with this language have led to a documented surge in anti-Asian bias and racist attacks."

anti-Asian violence
Tracy Wong wearing a face mask and holding a sign takes part in a rally to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence, near Chinatown in Los Angeles, California, on February 20, 2021. - The rally was organized in response to last month's fatal assault of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old immigrant from Thailand, in San Francisco. RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images/Getty Images

The Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also released a statement on Saturday condemning O'Donnell's use of the term.

"Courts are to be an example of honor and integrity wherein all who come before them should confidently expect they will be treated fairly. Such overt and reckless language sends the exact opposite message," read the statement.

"Considering Judge O'Donnell's clear and public feelings, it is next to impossible to think that an Asian American, any person of color, or other minority could walk in his courtroom believing she or he would be afforded such fair treatment."

Lake County Bar Association President Joshua Strickland acknowledged to cleveland.com that O'Donnell's column "used a phrase that is insensitive and offensive to many people."

"This article was published by staff without the input or review of the Bar Association Board of Directors and, as it stated in the Lake Legal Views, does not reflect the sentiment, position or opinion of the Bar Association or its Board of Directors," Strickland said.

O'Donnell's comments came as researchers found that the number of hate crimes, incidents of discrimination, and harassment against Asian Americans have significantly increased since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.

The use of the phrase "China virus" by lawmakers, including former President Donald Trump, has led to a surge in discrimination against Asian Americans, according to a September study from professors at the University of California Berkeley, the University of California San Francisco, and the Tulane School of Medicine.

The professors found that bias by Americans toward Asian Americans "declined steadily from 2007 through early 2020 but reversed trend and began to increase on March 8, following the increase in stigmatization language in conservative media outlets," according to the study's abstract.

The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Wuhan, China in early 2020. The virus quickly spread across the globe leading to the coronavirus pandemic.

Newsweek reached out to O'Donnell, but didn't hear back in time for publication.