BELTON — A judge will decide today on a court petition that seeks to remove Bell County Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown from her elected office.
Judge Stephen Ables of the 216th District Court in Kerr County will hear arguments at 1 p.m. in the Bell County 169th District Court on whether or not Brown should be issued a citation and stand trial for controversial and allegedly unconstitutional bonds she set after taking office — including a record-setting $4 billion bond for a Killeen murder suspect that was later reduced.
The petition, submitted Feb. 15 by Killeen lawyer Brett Pritchard, accuses Brown of being “grossly incompetent” and said she “engaged in official misconduct.”
Brown denied any wrongdoing in a public post on her Facebook page Wednesday.
“I achieved a goal by making an intended grave and bold error,” Brown wrote. “None of the other cases cited against me in Pritchard’s law suit are accurate. I am not able to talk about the cases, but I can assure you that I used excellent and sound judgment as I set bail in all of the cases he stated in his suit against me.”
Brown said in her post that the $4 billion bond was intended to get the attention of people who were opposing her attempts to do what she was taught. Otherwise, she said, she has worked within the “philosophy of the leaders of our great Bell County, state of Texas and these United States of America.”
Brown previously told a Temple Daily Telegram reporter that she knew the $4 billion bond she set for murder suspect Antonio Willis was unconstitutional and she used it to make a point about the brokenness of the legal system.
“I set it as high as I could to illustrate the fact that it’s ridiculous how we are railroading people without them even having their constitutional rights to a fair trial to determine if they are guilty or innocent,” Brown told a Telegram reporter. “Everything in the system is broken.”
She believes bonds are set too high for offenders, making it impossible for them to be released from jail until they are proven innocent or guilty, Brown said.
To protest the high bonds, Brown then began setting many bonds below the recommended levels for some reportedly violent offenders.
Brown set a $1,000 bond for Chance Haden Pearson, 24, of Fort Hood, a man who is accused of committing a sexual assault. Pearson’s bond was challenged after Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza took exception with the extremely low bond. Garza made a motion to reset it, and Bell County Judge John Gauntt agreed and reset the bond at $125,000.
Garza challenged the bond Brown set for a fourth case Wednesday. Cetara Barnes, 30, of Killeen, was charged with assaulting a family/household member with previous convictions, a third-degree felony. Brown set her bond at $3,000. The bond was raised Wednesday to $40,000 after the hearing.
In her post, Brown said, “Therefore, I will do all within my power to fight for my position because I know that I am needed to help make the changes good people in Bell County, the state of Texas and these United States of America are also committed to doing to reform the broken areas of our judicial system.”
Brown hopes that everyone will eventually “get it,” she said. She contends that she is committed to making a positive difference as a justice of the peace.
“I have never met Brett Pritchard, but I can assure you that he is wrong for filing this law suit against me,” Brown wrote.
“If I am to be removed because of a constitutional violation, so must everyone who has someone in jail right now for violating their constitutional right. If I am to be removed for incompetence, consider that I have more education than anyone who has ever held this position,” Brown said in another post Wednesday.
Brown declined to comment about the hearing during a Wednesday call to her Killeen office.