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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. Compromising precious constitutional rights in order to protect them? Rather like the military intelligence slogan that the town had to be destroyed in order to save it. Looks like Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus will have quite the eventful Boxing Day this year. Wise men will arrive to find no one to accept their gifts? Oh well, wisdom not all that desired this xmas anyway. Maybe the ACLU and Christian attorneys can work out a "three days every third year" visitation compromise and all of this messy litigation stuff can just be boxed up as well? It is an art form, now isn't it? Thomas More, a man of manifold compromises is undoubtedly cheering on wildly.

  2. From the MCBA: “This situation is not just about the death of Michael Brown, but the thousands of other African-Americans who are disproportionately targeted and killed by police officers.” The association said it was “saddened and disappointed” by the decision not to indict Ferguson police officer. HOPING that the MCBA will denouce the execution style killig of two NYC police officers this day, seemingly the act of one who likewise believes that the police are targeting blacks for murder and getting away with it. http://www.mediaite.com/online/two-nypd-cops-fatally-shot-in-ambush-in-brooklyn/ Pray this violence soon ends, and pray it stays far away from Indiana.

  3. "Am I bugging you? I don't mean to bug ya." If what I wrote below is too much social philosophy for Indiana attorneys, just take ten this vacay to watch The Lego Movie with kiddies and sing along where appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw

  4. I've got some free speech to share here about who is at work via the cat's paw of the ACLU stamping out Christian observances.... 2 Thessalonians chap 2: "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

  5. Did someone not tell people who have access to the Chevy Volts that it has a gas engine and will run just like a normal car? The batteries give the Volt approximately a 40 mile range, but after that the gas engine will propel the vehicle either directly through the transmission like any other car, or gas engine recharges the batteries depending on the conditions.

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