The neat handwriting in red ink on a page torn from a legal pad contained a desperate plea from a bewildered young mother held in the Marion County Jail.
“I went to court Jan. 14, 2013, and I was sentenced to do 40 hours of community service work,” the letter to Marion Superior Judge Kimberly Brown reads, “and I was told by you and my public defender that I was released. … but they still got me sitting here saying I wasn’t released … so please judge, help me.”
Sharell Lobley had been arrested on a misdemeanor shoplifting charge on Jan. 10, and she couldn’t afford the $150 she needed to make bail, she wrote in the letter to Brown. The letter Lobley signed was dated Jan. 21, a full week after she’d been sentenced under a diversion program and presumed her case was resolved as long as she met the court’s conditions.
But another nine days went by before prosecutors and defense attorneys filed a joint motion Jan. 30 asking Brown to waive the diversion program’s sentence of community service, because Lobley at that point had spent 17 days in jail.
Lobley is one of nine defendants from Brown’s courts who spent one to 22 days behind bars that they should not have, according a complaint alleging 45 counts violating various rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Brown “failed to inquire about defendant Lobley’s ability to make bond, or to complete paperwork to order the defendant released on her own recognizance,” the complaint says.
Brown faces an array of accusations in addition to those that her actions led to the delayed release of defendants. She allegedly created “a hostile environment for attorneys, court staff, clerks, and other court officials.”
The Judicial Qualifications Commission on Aug. 26 asked the Supreme Court to suspend Brown pending disciplinary proceedings, but as of Sept. 5, Brown was still on the bench hearing misdemeanor and Class D felony domestic violence cases. On Sept. 6, the Indiana Surpeme Court issued an order giving Brown until noon Sept. 11 to respond to the request for suspension.
Brown did not respond to a message seeking comment, and her attorney, Aaron Haith, of Choate & Haith, said through a firm representative there would be no immediate comment.
But justices noted in the Sept. 6 order that no attorney had yet appeared for Brown in the JQC matter.
Public defenders familiar with multiple allegations said they could not comment because of the pending matter.
The charges allege Brown neglected administrative duties and paperwork resulting in the wrongful detentions.
The statement of charges against Brown also asserts that between 2009 and January 2013, when Brown was elected to serve as judge either in Criminal Division 16 or 7, she failed to do necessary paperwork or properly train and supervise staff and court officers. She also is accused of improperly converting jury trials to bench trials and causing multiple needless delays.
Several of the counts against Brown allege she treated defense and prosecuting attorneys and clerks and court officers in a rude and discourteous manner. She “routinely displayed inappropriate demeanor toward Court 16 staff and maintained a hostile environment by making derogatory and inappropriate comments about other court staff, court officials, and attorneys in front of staff members and by engaging in other hostile behaviors.”
Brown is accused of failing to timely act on motions before her in multiple instances, and when lawyers called her office daily and court staff approached her about it, she “sometimes responded to the effect of, ‘This isn’t a McDonald’s, you can’t get what you want when you want it’ or ‘I refuse to be held captive,’” according to the complaint.
The complaint says Brown held public defenders to a different standard than private attorneys. Court staff members allege that she frequently told them she “hated” certain defenders and referred to them as “stupid.”
In one instance, Brown is accused of snapping at a public defender who corrected the judge that the client’s next court date was a jury trial rather than a bench trial. Brown is alleged to have said, “You’re very close to contempt. … I suggest that you stop. You are disrupting this court’s procedures.”
Brown also is accused of treating court staff badly, making unflattering comments about their weight, and in one case banning a deputy clerk from her courtroom. Her court had the highest turnover rate of any Marion Superior court, with 14 different employees from 2009 to 2012. Brown later hired bailiffs and a court reporter with no court experience, the complaint alleges.
The judge also is accused of firing her former chief bailiff, Tamara Harrell, in August 2012 because Brown “believed that Harrell had provided information to, or was going to file a complaint with, the Judicial Qualifications Commission.”
Much of the complaint centers on failings to properly stay on top of paperwork, some of which could be attributed to conflicts with clerks. “The inability to locate files in Court 16 became so pronounced that the clerk’s office for a time maintained a log of all files the deputy clerk transferred to the judge,” according to the notice of proceedings.
As of Sept. 9, no date had been set for proceedings before the Judicial Qualifications Commission, according to the online docket of the Supreme Court.•