BELTON — A public reprimand of Bell County Justice of the Peace Judge Claudia Brown released Thursday explained evidence the State Commission on Judicial Conduct used to come to its decision.
The commission — which cited Temple Daily Telegram reporting on the case — found that Brown knew on Jan. 31 what she was doing when she set the $4 billion bond for Antonio Marquis Willis, a Killeen murder suspect. In several Telegram interviews of Brown, she gave reasons for setting the bond so high and talked about the “broken system.”
“My main reason was to show how ridiculous it is for us to be setting bail too high for people to get out of jail. As a result, there are many sitting in jail and they can’t afford to get out and they haven’t even been to trial,” Brown said in a Telegram article published Feb. 9, 2017.
The commission later cited the Telegram report that Brown set a $2,000 bond for her son, Kevin Anton Davis, on June 22 after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated.
Killeen Police Sgt. Tyler McEowen contacted Brown about her son’s arrest, and Brown told him she would arraign her son himself because she didn’t want to bother another judge, according to the commission.
Brown told a second Killeen Police officer, Sgt. Ryan McAtee, it wasn’t necessary to call another judge even though the sergeant suggested it would be a good idea to call in a different judge to “alleviate the appearance of inappropriate behavior.” Brown thanked him for his concern and told him she would treat Davis like any other person.
Brown’s attorney, Buck Wood, told the Telegram on Thursday that Brown tried to find another judge but none were available at that time. He emphasized the bond she set was standard and wasn’t favorable to her son, but was the same bail she would have given somebody else for the same offense.
“Was it wise for her to do that? No. She admits that,” Wood said. “Was it possible another judge could have been found after a period of time? Possibly, but he (her son) would have sat in jail longer.”
Brown, in her response to the commission’s letter of inquiry, said, “It was very hard for me to see my son in this condition, much less to commit what I knew to be an ethical no no ... something I would never have done under normal circumstances.”
Other posts on Brown’s Facebook page added to the facts the commission cited.
At a removal hearing on March 9, Brown testified, “If you are, let’s say, a rookie, a new person coming into a system and people are trying to mold you into something that you know you should not be doing, then sometimes you had to do something drastic.” She also admitted that setting the bond “was a onetime only, egregious error that was intentionally done” and she “would never do it under normal circumstances.”
Wood addressed the $4 billion bond in a statement to the Telegram.
“There is a major movement in the country to stop using bail as a punishment, and you know extremely high bail is asked for in Bell County,” Wood said. “She (Brown) doesn’t agree with that at all and is part of a group of judges and lawyers that say the bail system is just to make sure the offenders show up for trial unless there is a special finding, like a threat to the public. Then the bail can be set higher so it’s unlikely the offender can make bail.”
Wood said Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht is part of the nationwide movement, and invited Brown to meet with him after the Telegram first reported the case.
“She (Brown) was asked to set a ridiculous bond and she got mad,” Wood said. “She shouldn’t have. She asked how high they wanted it. She asked if $400,000 was enough. She shouldn’t have let it affect her judgment, but she asked about adding more zeroes and making it $4 billion.”
Wood said he told her she shouldn’t have done that and she admitted it to the commission. She also knew she shouldn’t have arraigned her son, Wood said.
Wood said his opinion was that because two complaints were stacked against Brown, the commission felt it had to take public action against her.
The commission listed multiple standards of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct Brown violated by her conduct on the bench, as well as the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
The final article she violated reads that a judge may be disciplined for “willful or persistent violation of rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of Texas, incompetency in performing the duties of the office, willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, or willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of justice.”
The commission’s conclusion was that Brown failed to comply with “the law and maintain competence in the law, failed to be patient, dignified, and courteous with, and through words and conduct indicated she was swayed by partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism when she set a four billion dollar bond for Antonio Marquis Willis.”
In addition, by magistrating her son, Brown “lent the prestige of her judicial office to advance his private interests, allowed her relationship with her son to influence her conduct and failed to disqualify herself.”