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Judge facing discipline refused to take deposition oath

November 4, 2013

Marion Superior Judge Kimberly Brown refused to be sworn during a deposition before the Judicial Qualifications Commission – a videotaped moment of defiance used against her Monday at the outset of her weeklong disciplinary case.

Over the objection of Brown’s attorneys, the three-judge panel of special masters allowed into evidence the judge’s videotaped refusal to swear to tell the truth during an Aug. 1 deposition in the case that now includes 47 counts of judicial misconduct.

“I am always an officer of the court,” Brown says in refusing to take the oath. “I am a judge.”

Meanwhile, Brown’s attorneys said the case against her is a result of problems with her court staff and that she’s being singled out for delayed releases of criminal defendants that have happened with other Marion Superior judges.

Brown was the first witness called in a hearing expected to last at least through the end of this week and possibly into next week. Brown wiped away tears as she attempted to explain why she refused to be sworn in the deposition. “I believe I’m always an officer of the court and therefore always bound to the truth,” she said.

“But you decided to do something different today,” JQC attorney Adrienne Meiring said after Brown took an oath before the masters. Retired Monroe Circuit Judge Viola Taliaferro is presiding over the panel that includes Boone Superior Judge Rebecca S. McClure and Lake Superior Judge Sheila M. Moss.

Meiring pointed Brown to rules of evidence requiring witnesses be sworn and admitted into evidence the statutes governing oaths that judges and other public officials such as police officers must take. Taliaferro asked Brown multiple times to explain why she believed she wasn’t required to swear an oath at the deposition.

“I wasn’t basing it on anything other than I’m always an officer of the court,” Brown said.

Meiring argued that Brown’s refusal to be sworn at the deposition illustrated the nature of many of the complaints against her. The charges against Brown include allegations that she delayed release of at least nine defendants – in one case for 22 days – failed to properly oversee her court, was hostile toward parties who came before and retaliated against court staff who complained, among other things.

Meiring opened by using Brown’s alleged words against her – “This isn’t McDonald’s … It’ll get ruled on when it gets ruled on,” Meiring said. “This is not simply a situation of a bad day.

“This is systemic neglect and failing to do her judicial duty,” she said, calling Brown’s demeanor “rampant disrespect and abuse of various court officials and actors who came before her.”

Brown’s attorney Aaron Haith sought to shift blame from the judge to a “sour staff” that he said she inherited when she moved between criminal court divisions at the City-County Building. Brown hears a docket of mainly domestic misdemeanor and Class D felony cases.

“It is a high-stress position for a judge,” Haith said. He said Brown also tried to change the court staff but was unable to do so. He told the judges that the evidence presented to them this week will show questions of staff integrity, staff knowledge and staff training.

The quality of staff performance, Haith said, “can be a help or a hindrance to the court.”

Haith also argued that Brown was being singled out for oversights that she has in common with other judges on the Marion Superior bench. “They all had problems … with delayed releases” of people wrongly held at the Marion County Jail, he said.

“They’re not judged,” Haith said. “Judge Brown is.”

Haith said the Marion Superior Executive Committee has instituted training for judges because of problems of delayed releases for which Brown is being disciplined, and he cited a lack of communications between the courts and the jail for the problem of defendants being held longer than a judge has ordered. “You will find all the judges are suffering or worried” about the problems, Haith told the panel.

Meiring later pressed Brown on her initial responses to the JQC’s charges against her in which she accepted responsibility in some cases and later denied responsibility in an amended response.

“I’m denying that I violated the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Brown said in response to questions about the underlying facts of a case in which a defendant was wrongly jailed.

Meiring argued that Brown had shown a lack of cooperation with the commission, an assertion to which Haith objected. Meiring noted that in depositions, Brown had responded to yes-or-no questions by saying “the record speaks for itself” 106 times.

Brown’s hearing is open to the public and will continue this week in the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom or conference room at the Statehouse.
 

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