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Judge Kimberly Brown removed from bench by justices

March 4, 2014

The Indiana Supreme Court removed Marion Superior Judge Kimberly Brown from the bench Tuesday after finding she “engaged in significant judicial misconduct.” The judge had been on paid suspension since Jan. 9 pending final discipline.

A panel of special masters found that the Judicial Qualifications Commission proved more than 80 rule violations by Brown on 46 of 47 charges. She was accused of wrongful detention of at least nine criminal defendants, failing to properly oversee her court, improperly supervising trials, failing to act on Court of Appeals orders, showing hostility toward parties who came before her, and retaliating against court staff who complained.

“We conclude that the Commission has determined, by clear and convincing evidence, that (Brown) engaged in significant judicial misconduct, and we conclude that the misconduct warrants her removal from office,” the majority held in a per curiam opinion.

“We conclude that protecting the integrity of the judicial system and ensuring the fair and timely administration of justice require that (Brown) be removed from office … effective immediately,” justices ordered.

Justice Robert Rucker concurred in part, agreeing that Brown should be removed, but not immediately. She should be given a chance as another judge had in a prior extensive disciplinary case.

The 22-page opinion found that during Brown’s tenure in Marion Superior Criminal Division 7, 10 defendants were not promptly released when they should have been, the longest improper detention lasting 22 days.

The opinion cites Brown’s alleged expletive-filled tirades aimed at public defenders, her purported favoring of some court staff over others, and retaliation against those who she perceived as cooperating with investigations of her court.

Brown had argued for a 60-day suspension based on prior judicial discipline cases, including Matter of Hawkins, 902 N.E.2d 231, 244 (Ind. 2009), Matter of Boles, 555 N.E.2d 1284, 1289 (Ind. 1990), and Matter of Danikolas, 838 N.E.2d 422, 430 (Ind. 2005).

Justices found though, that “misconduct in this case was more widespread and egregious than the misconduct at issue” in the cases Brown cited.

“Her post-hearing Submission, agreeing that she engaged in most of the misconduct alleged by the Commission and apologizing for it, is entitled to little mitigating weight in light of its timing. The Submission was made after failing to cooperate fully with the Commission’s investigation and putting the Commission to its burden of proof at a lengthy hearing. It is hard to assign much weight to an expression of remorse under these circumstances,” the majority held.

The order does not bar Brown from practicing law, but does render her ineligible for judicial office. Brown had recently filed to seek re-election.  

Rucker said Brown’s case more closely aligned with Matter of Kouros, 816 N.E.2d 21, 22 (Ind. 2004). “It is Kouros with its similarities to the facts before us that compels me to conclude (Brown) should not be immediately removed from office; but rather should be afforded the opportunity to demonstrate that she has the capacity to manage her court.”

Rucker noted Lake Superior Judge Joan Kouros was given that opportunity and it was only after a period of reporting and state court oversight that it was determined Kouros lacked the capacity to administer the court.

Rucker proposed a 60-day suspension without pay followed by removal from office stayed for one year of supervised probation by the Division of State Court Administration. He argued Kouros “presented far more egregious facts than those that exist here.”
 

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