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Petition seeks to oust JP who set $4 billion bond

BELTON — A lawyer filed a petition Wednesday that seeks to remove newly elected Bell County Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown from office and requests that she be suspended until a trial is held to determine if she is qualified to remain in her position.

The petition, allowed under Chapter 87 of the state Code of Criminal Procedure, was filed with the Bell County District Clerk’s office Wednesday by Killeen lawyer Brett Pritchard. It requests that someone be appointed to handle Brown’s duties before the issue is heard in a civil court, Pritchard said.

“I cannot stand by and watch a judge use her position to undermine the public confidence in our judiciary,” Pritchard said when asked Wednesday why he filed the petition.

It is the second complaint filed against Brown within a week. On Friday, lawyer Jeff Parker filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after Brown assigned a record-setting $4 billion bond against Killeen murder suspect Antonio Marquis Willis in what she said was a protest against the legal system. District Court Judge John Gauntt ruled the bond amount unconstitutional and reduced it to $150,000.

Since then, Brown has dropped her bonds to the low side, prompting more action from Bell County officials.

This week, a $1,000 bond set by Brown for 24-year-old Chance Pearson, charged for a felony sexual assault, was set aside after a motion was filed by District Attorney Henry Garza. Gauntt raised Pearson’s bond to $125,000.

In his petition, Pritchard cited the oath Brown took Jan. 2 to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of the state. Pritchard cited interviews Brown gave to the Temple Daily Telegram and KCEN about her reasons for setting the ridiculously high bond, and then for the low bonds she’s recently given.

After Gauntt raised Pearson’s bond, a warrant was issued for Pearson to be arrested since he is currently not in the Bell County Jail.

Garza said he filed the motion to increase the bond for the second-degree felony sexual assault charge in light of the nature of the offense, and for the safety of the victim and the community. Gauntt increased the bond and added a special condition that Pearson can have no contact with the alleged victim.

Pritchard listed the Constitution, statutes and canons of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct that Brown reportedly violated, including setting excessive bail, the failure to establish, maintain and enforce high standards of conduct, not using the prestige of her office to advance her private interests and failing to perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice in his petition.

Pritchard said Brown should be found guilty of incompetency and official misconduct.

Brown did not return a call by the Telegram by press time Wednesday. A day earlier, she told a Telegram reporter to never call her again and hung up.

Brown, the county’s only Democratic official and a former Killeen City Council member, was elected in November. She has become well known after the $4 billion bond she set on a first-degree murder charge received attention from around the world.

Brown admitted to reporters that she knew the $4 billion bond was unconstitutional when she set it and did it to make a point about the brokenness of the legal system.