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Suspension may herald end of Kimberly Brown’s judicial career

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brown_timeline.jpgBefore suspended Marion Superior Judge Kimberly Brown was facing possible removal from the bench for dozens of disciplinary counts, she had difficulties in her prior court, according to recent filings arguing for the ultimate sanction against a judge.

The Indiana Supreme Court suspended Brown with pay Jan. 9, citing Admission and Discipline Rule 25V(B). The rule says any judge whose removal from the bench has been recommended by the Judicial Qualifications Commission shall be suspended with pay pending the court’s disciplinary ruling.

Before she moved to Marion Superior Criminal Court 7 in January 2013, Brown had been in Criminal Court 16 since 2009. There, she scheduled jury trials one day each week. But she didn’t preside over a jury trial in that court until May 2012, more than three years later.
 

Brown Brown

Brown instead “assigned the responsibility of presiding over jury trials in Court 16 to commissioners, senior judges or judges pro tempore,” according to the special masters who last month recommended the Indiana Supreme Court remove her. The masters’ report also says that on multiple occasions in Court 7, Brown continued jury trials even when space and court officers were available to try them.

Those findings are among the filings asking justices to remove Brown from the bench. Her last-minute apology, submission to discipline and request for a 60-day suspension she sent to the Supreme Court – along with an affidavit in her support from former Justice Frank Sullivan – will not be considered, the special masters ruled Jan. 2.

Allegations against Brown include 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 to the commission.

On Jan. 8, Brown unsuccessfully appealed to the justices to spare her suspension.

Brown “understands that the rule appears to be mandatory that she be suspended from the office with pay pending final resolution of the issue of sanctions pending before the court,” the judge argued in the filing from her attorney, Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP partner Karl Mulvaney.

“(I)t is her preference to continue to hear cases in Criminal Division 7 in order to keep the court properly functioning.”

The filing says Brown “does intend to file a petition for review directed at the recommended sanction” by a Jan. 16 deadline that would further bolster her argument for a 60-day suspension based on such a sanction in similar cases.

But justices wasted no time ordering Brown’s suspension pending final discipline, ruling a day after she appealed to remain on the bench. “Hon. Kimberly J. Brown, is suspended from office with pay effective at the close of business on the date of this order. This suspension will continue in effect until further order of this Court,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote for the court.

Brown’s career as a judge will be finished if justices fully embrace the commission’s recommendations.

“If the Court adopts the Masters’ and the Commission’s recommendations and issues an order of removal, the Commission asks the Court, at that time, also to find (Brown) permanently ineligible for judicial office,” Adrienne Meiring, counsel for the Judicial Qualifications Commission, recommended in a Jan. 3 filing.

Brown’s request to stay her suspension included her affidavit of Dec. 11 which the masters previously struck. She apologizes and says changes have been made in her court to address concerns raised in her disciplinary case. The filing also is supplemented with documents detailing the remedial actions taken after the commission’s investigation began.

Retired Monroe Circuit Judge Viola Taliaferro presided over the panel of three special masters who heard Brown’s weeklong disciplinary case in November. She noted Brown hadn’t shown cause for failing to file findings of fact after the hearing.


talliaferro-viola-mug Taliaferro

Instead, “Brown by-passed the Panel of Special Masters” with her Dec. 11 filing that advocated a 60-day suspension and included Sullivan’s affidavit. “The submission was later supplied to the Special Masters by the Supreme Court,” Taliaferro wrote.

The commission asked the masters to strike the filings as untimely and outside the record, and the panel agreed. “In that evidence has been heard, concluded and the cause submitted to the special masters for ruling, Brown’s chance to apologize, show mitigating circumstances, and recommend proposed discipline has passed,” Taliaferro wrote.

The commission would be unduly prejudiced if Brown’s filing or Sullivan’s affidavit were admitted without the opportunity to cross-examine the parties, she wrote. The panel stands on its recommendation that Brown be removed from the bench but clarified that the masters do not recommend suspending Brown’s law license.

The panel filed 107 pages of findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommended sanctions for Brown Dec. 27 in what is believed to be the most extensive case against a judge in the history of the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission.

The special masters – Taliaferro, Boone Superior Judge Rebecca S. McClure and Lake Superior Judge Sheila M. Moss – made 281 particular findings in Brown’s case, along with conclusions that she violated numerous rules of judicial conduct.

Among them, the masters noted that in several bench trials that took less than a couple of hours to try, Brown frequently took breaks and continued them, particularly if the trial might go past 4 p.m. Prosecutors had to dismiss some cases because witnesses became frustrated by the proceedings and stopped coming to multiple court dates, the report says.

The commission proved more than 80 rule violations by clear and convincing evidence on 46 of 47 counts against Brown, the panel concluded. She was cleared on Count 22, in which she was accused of interrupting a public defender and treating him in an impatient and discourteous manner as he attempted to make a legal argument.

Brown also may have violated the law for terminating a former bailiff in her court who was among those who complained to the JQC, the panel concluded.

Along with the catalog of rule violations the panel found, it also noted in its general conclusions Brown’s refusal to be sworn during videotaped depositions before the commission. Refusing to be sworn “can only be viewed as signifying a lack of respect for the judicial process,” the masters concluded.

Brown also refused to turn over evidence the commission sought, the report states.•

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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