A petition was filed Friday to remove from office a Bell County justice of the peace who was publicly reprimanded in December by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
A second amended petition, obtained by the Temple Daily Telegram, was filed by Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols against Bell County Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown to remove her from the elected position. Nichols requested a promptly set trial date.
Under a previous removal petition, the state judicial panel allowed Brown to remain in office and required her to have two hours of additional judicial education under the guidance of a mentor.
Nichols hinted in April the status of the case against Brown could change. “The case hasn’t been dismissed because I’m not comfortable that all the issues have been resolved,” he said.
Brown, who runs the Precinct 4, Place 1, JP office, told the Telegram on Friday afternoon that she had no comment about the petition. Her attorney, Thomas Baker, did not return a phone call Friday.
The conclusion of Nichols’ petition is that Brown is “unfit and unable to promptly and properly discharge her official duties because of a serious physical or mental defect that did not exist at the time of her election.”
Bell County has been negatively impacted by Brown, the petition said, pointing to what it called official misconduct and incompetency.
The petition cited statistics, including that from June 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, only 25 percent of all civil dispositions occurred in Brown’s court, with the remaining 75 percent occurring in the court of Precinct 4, Place 2, JP Bill Cooke.
Embarrassment to county
In general, Brown’s actions “caused the citizens of Bell County to distrust the judiciary as a whole, evidenced by general citizen comments and letters to the editors of the local newspapers,” Nichols said. “Moreover, Claudia Brown’s official misconduct has brought embarrassment to Bell County on a national level, evidenced by the national news coverage of the largest bail ever.”
Brown made national headlines in February 2017 after the Telegram reported that she set a U.S. record $4 billion bond for a Killeen murder suspect, Antonio Willis, as a protest against the legal system.
The petition states Brown violated the U.S. Constitution, Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Brown told the Telegram last year she intentionally set a bond amount so high that it was unconstitutional.
After setting the record bond, Brown put things in reverse and set other bonds below recommended amounts for some defendants charged with violent felony offenses.
The bonds were insufficient “when considering the safety of the victim and community,” the petition said.
Killeen lawyer Brett Pritchard filed the initial petition last year to remove Brown from office. A judge directed Nichols to take the removal lawsuit to a jury trial. Instead, the decision on what would happen to Brown was left up to the state judicial commission.
Pritchard voiced his disapproval in April of how the case was handled, saying a jury would probably have voted to remove Brown from office. He called upon Nichols to set the matter for trial because the district judge had already ordered it. Pritchard referred to Brown as a “judge running amok.”
“When Claudia Brown was elected judge she took upon herself the sacred trust of being fair and impartial and of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety,” Pritchard said Friday. “Judge Brown has trampled that sacred trust by using her position as a platform to promote her own agenda and to advance her own self interest.”
Pritchard called upon Brown to immediately resign “so as to not subject the citizens of Bell County to further mistrust and abuse of her power.”
Review of cases
Brown’s bond-setting actions caused the Bell County District Attorney’s office to review her cases. At least seven of Brown’s bonds were changed by Bell County judges over a period of time.
Brown also arraigned her son, Kevin Anton Davis, in June 2017, after he was charged with driving while intoxicated while involved in an accident. She did that even after two Killeen Police officers told her she needed to have another judge do her son’s arraignment, according to the judicial commission.
She set a $2,000 bond for Davis on the DWI charge, lower than what she normally set bonds for other defendants charged with similar crimes.
On Sept. 13, 2017, Brown issued a citation against Davis for a plaintiff who filed a lawsuit against him. She reportedly violated Article 5, Section 11, of the Texas Constitution and Rule 18b, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, which disqualify a judge from presiding over a case involving a family member.
She also let the plaintiff file a suit against her son in her court without letting that person know of the family relationship. Brown should have instructed the plaintiff to file the case with Cooke, whose office is down the hall from Brown’s, the petition notes.
The case is still pending in Brown’s court. It’s unknown if she’s told the plaintiff that she is Davis’ mother.
Brown refused to conduct two death inquests, including one involving a hospice patient, when she was on call for the pronunciation of deaths, the petition said.
The Harker Heights Police Department asked Brown several times to come, but she refused because it was a hospice patient. Finally, Brown agreed to do the inquest, but she just drove by, never stopped and didn’t do the inquest, the petition said.
Temple Police asked Brown on July 17 to conduct an inquest, but she reportedly refused to come.
The death was an unnatural one in rural Bell County, but the dead person was in Brown’s jurisdiction. Brown wouldn’t come, but she said she would call Cooke, who wasn’t on call for that area. Brown said she would stay in contact with Cooke.
About 90 minutes later, Cooke arrived to do the inquest, but he said Brown never contacted him.
The petition claims Brown is grossly careless in discharge of her duties.
Along with previous examples, in another case Brown reportedly set a $15,000 bond for a 17-year-old charged with possession of marijuana under two ounces, a Class B misdemeanor, on May 12, 2017.
The teenager was accused of smoking a marijuana cigarette at a school playground in Harker Heights at 11 p.m. when no children were there and no school activities were ongoing.
Forty-eight of the 53 death certificates Brown was responsible for had to be completed, amended or corrected by Cooke because she didn’t fill them out correctly, the petition said. Death certificates are necessary to settle the final affairs of someone who dies. Failing to promptly issue a correct death certificate was a “total disregard of her duties,” the petition said.
‘Her scarlet letter’
A framed and matted newspaper article about Brown’s judicial reprimand was displayed in her office.
“I will wear my scarlet letter of public reprimand by placing it on the door of my office with pride,” Brown told the Telegram in December.
Displaying her letter of reprimand from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for her failure to comply with the law showed how grossly ignorant Brown was of her official duties and how careless she was in discharging those duties, Nichols said in the petition.
Brown shared a link on her Facebook page titled “Yesterday’s Ku Klux Klan members are today’s police officers.”
Nichols’ petition claims Brown violated Canon 2 of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires a judge to act at all times in a way that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
Brown drew fire on Facebook for sharing the link that addressed the Norfolk, Va., city councilwoman’s belief that blacks are unfairly treated in the court system and that modern racists traded “their white hats and white-sheeted robes and put on police uniforms.” She also said some put on shirts and ties as policymakers and some put on robes as judges.
When asked if she believed Killeen Police officers were members of the KKK, Brown said she didn’t know.
On July 7, Brown publicly endorsed Bell County commissioner candidate John Driver, at an event held for him. On June 19, Brown contributed $500 to Driver’s campaign fund. These were violations of Canon 5 of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, the petition said.
Driver said Friday he knew Brown supported him both publicly and through a contribution, but didn’t know it was not OK for her to do that. Driver said he wasn’t familiar with the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
County Commissioner John Fisher, a Republican who faces Driver in November’s general election, said Brown should have known what she did wasn’t OK because it was part of her training.
Brown also implied to the wife of a man whose death she pronounced that he’d been murdered, the petition said.