A senior judge who presided in a Marion Superior criminal court for more than a dozen years testified Friday that delayed releases of defendants from jail are a problem with the county’s entire judicial system and not limited to the court of a judge facing discipline for that and other charges.
“There has been this problem forever,” Senior Judge Barbara Collins testified in the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s case against Marion Superior Judge Kimberly Brown. Brown faces 47 counts of judicial misconduct, including nine counts related to the delayed release of defendants for periods of time ranging from one to 22 days.
Collins retired from the bench of Marion Superior Criminal Court 8 at the end of 2012, and she estimated that at least once a week during most of that time she would be informed of a defendant who was still behind bars at the Marion County Jail after she had ordered release. Most of the time, it was due to staff failing to enter the judge’s orders, she said.
Collins’ testimony was admitted over the objection of Tom Carusillo, representing the JQC. Carusillo argued the line of questioning wasn’t relevant to the counts against Brown, but retired Judge Viola Taliaferro, presiding over a panel of three special masters, overruled. Brown’s attorney Aaron Haith said the line of questioning would support his argument at the opening of the case Monday that Brown was being singled out for problems endemic in the Marion Superior Courts.
As Brown has alleged, Collins also said many of the problems she encountered with delayed releases arose from staff who refused to follow proper procedures in entering minutes on antiquated computer systems, and that the problems seldom arose from errors made by jail staff.
Collins said that when she took over for a retiring judge she encountered resentments among staff, similar to those which Brown alleged when 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 with stacks of paperwork that had not been entered. She said there were issues of ghost employment, among other things.
“People just decided they’re not going to do things,” she said.
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 with delayed releases informally with other judges and attorneys, though not through a formal complaint with the Marion Superior Executive Committee.
“I am very outspoken and I tell it like it is, and I fix things,” Collins said at one point. The problem with delayed releases had improved during the last several months she was on the bench, she said, but she nevertheless still received reports at least a few times a month from public defenders or others of someone held at the jail who she had ordered released.
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 and asked Collins whether he would be able to influence her testimony. “There is never anytime you would have told me what to do,” Collins said.
Brown’s hearing is expected to continue through Sunday in the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom in the Statehouse. Taliaferro said earlier this week the masters expected to conclude the hearing by the end of the weekend.
The masters will ultimately provide recommendations on what discipline, if any, Brown should receive, and the matter will be decided by the Indiana Supreme Court.