BELTON — Bell County Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown — who made national headlines when she set a $4 billion bail for a Killeen murder suspect — was publicly reprimanded Thursday by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Brown, who faced a removal petition, will remain in her elected office and be required to have additional judicial education under an agreement between the commission and Brown, SCOJC Executive Director Eric Vinson told the Temple Daily Telegram on Thursday.
Brown will be required to spend two hours of instruction under the guidance of a mentor.
The mentor agreed upon to provide the additional education was Bell County Justice of the Peace Bill Cooke, Brown’s attorney, Buck Wood, said Thursday.
Brown said, “I agree with the commission. I respect them. Judges are held to very high standards, and I agree with the commission.”
Last week, Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols told the Telegram that a deal to keep Brown in office was underway.
Nichols said Thursday he wouldn’t comment until he had a chance to read the reprimand.
The judicial commission’s reprimand was accepted by Brown and Wood.
Brown, the county’s only elected Democrat, was sworn into office Jan. 3. One of her first decisions was setting a $4 billion bail for a Killeen murder suspect Antonio Marquis Willis as a protest against the legal system.
Brown’s case made national headlines after the Telegram reported the high bail.
Afterward, Brown reversed course and dropped some bails below recommended levels for some defendants charged with violent felony offenses, prompting the Bell County District Attorney’s Office to review her cases.
Like the $4 billion bail, those bails were set aside by Bell County judges. A total of seven bails set by Brown were changed.
On June 22, Brown arraigned her own son, Kevin Anton Davis, after he was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. The judicial commission noted two Killeen Police officers advised Brown to have another judge do her son’s arraignment.
The incident added fuel to the case against Brown and prompted Nichols in October to say he would issue a revised petition against Brown to remove her from office.
Lawyer Jeff Parker filed the complaint in February with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against Brown and filed an amendment to the complaint in June.
“The folks at the Judicial Commission are clearly a lot more qualified and experienced than I am to know what the typical corrective action should be in a case like this,” Parker said Thursday. “I will trust their decision if they believe that is what it will take to punish the past bad acts and to prevent any future ones by Judge Brown.”
Killeen lawyer Brett Pritchard filed the original court petition in February to remove Brown. He issued a statement about the commission’s decree.
“I applaud the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct for their decision on reprimanding Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown,” Pritchard said. “The role of judge in Texas is a sacred trust and all judges must be above reproach. Justice of the Peace Brown violated that trust and hopefully will do better moving forward.”
Nichols was appointed as the prosecuting attorney in the Brown case and at some point decided settling the case without a trial was the best decision. He said Brown wasn’t a criminal, she just used very bad judgment.
Pritchard commented on his disappointment that Brown won’t be tried in a court of law.
“I am disappointed by Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols’ lack of urgency in this matter. In March 2017, District Judge (Stephen) Ables heard evidence of JP Brown’s misconduct and ordered that a jury trial be held to determine whether she should be removed from office,” Pritchard said. “To date the jury trial has not been set and it now appears that Jim Nichols will never set it. The citizens of Bell County deserved to hear all the facts regarding JP Brown’s misconduct.”
It is Pritchard’s fear that Brown will continue her “unethical behavior” because the case was settled without a jury trial, Pritchard said.
Brown said on a Dec. 15 Facebook post, “It has been an interesting year. I am now an expert on the Bell County Judicial system. I am signed up to attend my second year judge training.”
Brown also has health issues, but hasn’t allowed that to interfere with her time on the bench, Wood said.
She said in the Facebook post that her stage four cancer is in remission.