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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. Applause, applause, applause ..... but, is this duty to serve the constitutional order not much more incumbent upon the State, whose only aim is to be pure and unadulterated justice, than defense counsel, who is also charged with gaining a result for a client? I agree both are responsible, but it seems to me that the government attorneys bear a burden much heavier than defense counsel .... "“I note, much as we did in Mechling v. State, 16 N.E.3d 1015 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, that the attorneys representing the State and the defendant are both officers of the court and have a responsibility to correct any obvious errors at the time they are committed."

  2. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  3. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  4. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  5. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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