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Marion Superior Judge Brown’s discipline case likely one for the record books

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The 47-count case against a Marion Superior judge appears to be the most voluminous judicial discipline proceeding in the state’s history, according to people familiar with the case and matters of judicial discipline.

Brown Brown

Marion Superior Criminal Court 7 Judge Kimberly Brown withstood seven consecutive days of hearings that concluded Nov. 10 before a panel of three special masters appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court: retired Monroe Circuit Judge Viola Taliaferro, Boone Superior Judge Rebecca S. McClure and Lake Superior Judge Sheila M. Moss.

Judicial Qualifications Commission attorney Adrienne Meiring called 39 witnesses against Brown, and the state compiled more than 190 exhibits alleging a catalog of judicial misconduct. Witnesses often fumbled through three oversized ring binders each filled with several hundred pages of documents.

The unusual hearings in the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom featured testimony from a number of Brown’s current and former colleagues and court staff to the special masters. The case opened with video of Brown refusing to take an oath to tell the truth during a deposition.

Brown is accused of delayed releases of at least nine defendants from the Marion County Jail, in one case for 22 days. Brown also is accused of a host of rule violations that involved 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, among other things.

Marion Superior Master Commissioner Deborah Shook testified that after the commission began investigating Brown, working in her court became intolerable. “I asked to be removed,” Shook testified. “It was becoming a very stressful environment, and it was affecting my health.” She said she had the impression she was being “set up” by Brown.

Shook said it was difficult as an officer of the court to testify in such a proceeding. “It’s stressful, and I feel sorry that we are all here,” she said haltingly at one point.

Brown’s attorney Aaron Haith argued his client was being singled out for problems that he said were persistent among judges on the Marion Superior criminal bench. “They all had problems … with delayed releases,” he said.

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

Haith said the Marion Superior Executive Committee instituted training for judges because of problems of delayed releases, 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.

Senior Judge Barbara Collins, who retired from Marion Superior Criminal Court 8 at the end of 2012, buttressed Brown’s argument of systemic dysfunction. 

“There has been this problem forever,” Collins testified about delayed releases from jail, estimating that at least once a week during most of her time on the criminal bench she learned of a defendant behind bars after she ordered a release. Most of the time, it was due to staff failing to enter orders, she said.

As Brown alleged, Collins also said many of the problems she encountered with delayed releases arose from staff refusing to follow proper procedures when making minute entries on antiquated computer systems. The problems seldom arose from errors made by jail staff, Collins said.

Haith sought to shift blame from Brown to a “sour staff” that he said she inherited when she moved between criminal court divisions at the Indianapolis 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. Brown also tried to change the court staff but was unable to do so, he explained. He noted problems of staff integrity, knowledge and training and said the quality of staff performance “can be a help or a hindrance to the court.”

Collins testified that when she took over for a retiring judge years back she encountered resentments among staff, similar to those Brown alleged after she moved to a new criminal division courtroom.“There was a lot of conflict and I had to watch my back,” Collins said of moving into Criminal Court 8 more than a dozen years earlier. She said staff often bickered and left work early leaving stacks of unfinished paperwork.

“People just decided they’re not going to do things,” she said.

Commission attorney Tom Carusillo pressed Collins on why she didn’t terminate employees or report those problems to court administrators, and she noted that at the beginning of her time on the Marion Superior bench there wasn’t anyone to report to. She said she did terminate some staff for unexcused absences or for lying to her, and she discussed the problems of delayed releases informally with other judges and attorneys, though not through a formal complaint with the Marion Superior Executive Committee.

Carusillo angered Collins at one point by asking whether her level of contact with Haith increased after the commission filed its disciplinary petition against Brown. “I’m affronted by that question,” she said.

Haith followed up by asking Collins whether he would be able to influence her testimony. “There is never any time you would have told me what to do,” Collins said.

Meiring focused at the outset on the video of Brown’s deposition. “I am always an officer of the court,” Brown says, refusing to be sworn. “I am a judge.” The first witness called, Brown tearfully testified that she simply made a decision not to be sworn.

“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,” Meiring responded, noting Brown took an oath before testifying in front of the masters.

Presiding over the panel, 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 used Brown’s moment of defiance from the deposition video to further the narrative of a rogue judge with little respect for the rules or her peers and colleagues. She quoted Brown’s alleged words to practitioners inquiring about overdue rulings – “This isn’t McDonald’s … It’ll get ruled on when it gets ruled on.”

“This is not simply a situation of a bad day,” she said, “This is systemic neglect and failing to do her judicial duty.” Meiring called Brown’s demeanor “rampant disrespect and abuse of various court officials and actors who came before her.”

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

The Indiana Supreme Court in September chose not to suspend Brown after the commission sought the immediate sanction. Justices instead scheduled the hearings on an expedited basis and appointed the special masters. The masters’ report and transcripts of the hearing are due by Dec. 30, after which the court will rule. Action taken by the Supreme Court can range from no discipline to removal from the bench.•
 

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  • Corrupt Crap!
    The whole Marion County judicial system is rife with corruption beginning with the way judges are selected through the slating process - a candidate buys his/her way in and is then guarantied a judgeship. The staffs are mostly political partisan hacks rather than professionals. Judge Brown's problems are a small symptom of the underlying problems. Look into it and shine a light on it. It's a disgrace.
  • The race card
    It appears that Judge Brown's attorney is playing the race card. Race may indeed be at issue in this case. Would the system have allowed Judge Brown to stay on the bench so long if she was white? Would the system have taken so long to move against Judge Brown if it was white middle class college kids she was forgetting to release from jail? Would those in the system have been more reticent or less reticent to file complaints against Kim Brown were she not a poster child for diversity politics? Hard questions that need to be asked if the race card is to be played.
  • More information please
    I would like to know how long Judge Kim Brown was on the court and how long this "systemic breakdown" in basic due process and justice has been evident. This seems an indictment of the entire system that such a judge can occupy the bench for more than a month or two. So .... how far back do the allegations go? Is this another Conour situation, only "merely" involving freedom and due process rather than funds allegedly under management?

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  1. Call it unauthorized law if you must, a regulatory wrong, but it was fraud and theft well beyond that, a seeming crime! "In three specific cases, the hearing officer found that Westerfield did little to no work for her clients but only issued a partial refund or no refund at all." That is theft by deception, folks. "In its decision to suspend Westerfield, the Supreme Court noted that she already had a long disciplinary history dating back to 1996 and had previously been suspended in 2004 and indefinitely suspended in 2005. She was reinstated in 2009 after finally giving the commission a response to the grievance for which she was suspended in 2004." WOW -- was the Indiana Supreme Court complicit in her fraud? Talk about being on notice of a real bad actor .... "Further, the justices noted that during her testimony, Westerfield was “disingenuous and evasive” about her relationship with Tope and attempted to distance herself from him. They also wrote that other aggravating factors existed in Westerfield’s case, such as her lack of remorse." WOW, and yet she only got 18 months on the bench, and if she shows up and cries for them in a year and a half, and pays money to JLAP for group therapy ... back in to ride roughshod over hapless clients (or are they "marks") once again! Aint Hoosier lawyering a great money making adventure!!! Just live for the bucks, even if filthy lucre, and come out a-ok. ME on the other hand??? Lifetime banishment for blowing the whistle on unconstitutional governance. Yes, had I ripped off clients or had ANY disciplinary history for doing that I would have fared better, most likely, as that it would have revealed me motivated by Mammon and not Faith. Check it out if you doubt my reading of this, compare and contrast the above 18 months with my lifetime banishment from court, see appendix for Bar Examiners report which the ISC adopted without substantive review: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS

  2. Wow, over a quarter million dollars? That is a a lot of commissary money! Over what time frame? Years I would guess. Anyone ever try to blow the whistle? Probably not, since most Hoosiers who take notice of such things realize that Hoosier whistleblowers are almost always pilloried. If someone did blow the whistle, they were likely fired. The persecution of whistleblowers is a sure sign of far too much government corruption. Details of my own personal experience at the top of Hoosier governance available upon request ... maybe a "fake news" media outlet will have the courage to tell the stories of Hoosier whistleblowers that the "real" Hoosier media (cough) will not deign to touch. (They are part of the problem.)

  3. So if I am reading it right, only if and when African American college students agree to receive checks labeling them as "Negroes" do they receive aid from the UNCF or the Quaker's Educational Fund? In other words, to borrow from the Indiana Appellate Court, "the [nonprofit] supposed to be [their] advocate, refers to [students] in a racially offensive manner. While there is no evidence that [the nonprofits] intended harm to [African American students], the harm was nonetheless inflicted. [Black students are] presented to [academia and future employers] in a racially offensive manner. For these reasons, [such] performance [is] deficient and also prejudice[ial]." Maybe even DEPLORABLE???

  4. I'm the poor soul who spent over 10 years in prison with many many other prisoners trying to kill me for being charged with a sex offense THAT I DID NOT COMMIT i was in jail for a battery charge for helping a friend leave a boyfriend who beat her I've been saying for over 28 years that i did not and would never hurt a child like that mine or anybody's child but NOBODY wants to believe that i might not be guilty of this horrible crime or think that when i say that ALL the paperwork concerning my conviction has strangely DISAPPEARED or even when the long beach judge re-sentenced me over 14 months on a already filed plea bargain out of another districts court then had it filed under a fake name so i could not find while trying to fight my conviction on appeal in a nut shell people are ALWAYS quick to believe the worst about some one well I DID NOT HURT ANY CHILD EVER IN MY LIFE AND HAVE SAID THIS FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS please if anybody can me get some kind of justice it would be greatly appreciated respectfully written wrongly accused Brian Valenti

  5. A high ranking Indiana supreme Court operative caught red handed leading a group using the uber offensive N word! She must denounce or be denounced! (Or not since she is an insider ... rules do not apply to them). Evidence here: http://m.indianacompanies.us/friends-educational-fund-for-negroes.364110.company.v2#top_info

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