KILLEEN — Bell County Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown says she will display her “scarlet letter” — a recent reprimand by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
“I will wear my scarlet letter of public reprimand by placing it on the door of my office with pride,” Brown said Thursday on her Facebook page. “It is framed and matted with the color blue since out of 30 elected positions in Bell County I am the only Democrat.”
Brown talked with a Temple Daily Telegram reporter Friday about the Facebook post she made and the public reprimand she received on Dec. 21 from the judicial panel.
The reprimand listed multiple standards of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Brown violated by her conduct on the bench. The commission concluded overall that Brown didn’t comply with the law and maintain competence in the law.
The ruling, which cited reporting by the Temple Daily Telegram, indicated Brown was swayed by partisan interests, public opinion or fear of criticism that first manifested itself when she set a record-breaking $4 billion bond for a Killeen murder suspect just one month after being sworn into office. She also was admonished for setting the bond in her son’s DUI case.
While a justice of the peace must only have a high school diploma, Brown listed her “four years teacher college, two years masters degree and four years doctoral degree” in her Facebook post.
In several previous interviews, Brown talked about the brokenness of the legal system and expressed her desire to show how “ridiculous” it was to set bail too high for people to get out of jail.
A second Facebook post Brown wrote Friday clarified why she placed the news article on her door for everyone to see.
“It is in contrast to the other positives I have received as Principal, Commissioner, Social Work Supervisor, City Council Member and honorable status from more than 23,000 voters who helped me win this post as the first Black Democratic Bell County Justice of the Peace for Precinct Four, Place No. 1,” Brown wrote.
Brown visits justice
Brown talked about her visit with Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht shortly after the news broke that she set a record-setting $4 billion bond.
“When I visited Justice Hecht in his office, I asked if I was there so he could fire me as a justice of the peace,” Brown said. “He said I wasn’t and he actually agreed with me on many things.”
Hecht mentioned problems with the bond system and also the juvenile justice system.
“He (Hecht) even said he wished I could have helped him with a 10-page speech he had to write,” Brown said.
It is evident Brown takes pride in her past and present achievements, as she pointed out the wall plaques that recognized her previous contributions. She walked into her courtroom, where a photo of all the Bell County elected officials hung on one wall. Brown said she didn’t know all of them, but they were all members of a team.
“Even though some of them tried to get me out of office,” Brown said.
Some people claimed that she wanted to be elected just to help black people, Brown said.
“That wasn’t true. I’m here for everyone.”
Brown pointed to the black and white photographs hung on the walls of buildings and people in history that are important to her — the annex in Killeen where she works, the Texas and U.S. Capitols, Hecht, President Donald Trump, former President Barack Obama, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and others.
She talked about the importance of her faith in God, especially since she’s battling stage four stomach cancer.
Recent scans showed the cancer is in remission, Brown said.
One of her favorite passages is Psalm 139, which Brown said she memorized. The Psalm, which consists of 24 verses, talks about how well God knows us because He made us.
Verses 15 and 16 read, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Brown was scheduled to perform a wedding Friday, and invited the reporter to stay. It was apparent from her smile and the lilt in her voice that weddings are joyful occasions for Brown, and she involved everyone in the ceremony.
Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols on Friday said he believes everyone’s reached the point where they’re satisfied with the commission’s sanctions, the continuing education and the monitoring by Bell County Justice of the Peace Bill Cooke.
Nichols was appointed in March by Judge Stephen Ables as the prosecutor of the case against Brown.
“I’m confident that if she (Brown) continues the education and seeks the advice of Judge Cooke when she has questions, we can certainly get past this and she can do a good job. But it’s entirely up to her,” Nichols said.
If everyone involved in the case is “on the same page,” Nichols said the case will most likely become a non-suit — the equivalent of a dismissal — in the near future.
One Bell County lawyer said it was clear Brown didn’t know what she was doing as a justice of the peace and tried to cover it up.
“As history repeatedly has taught us, the cover-up is always worse than the actual crime,” Jeff Parker said Thursday.
When asked about Brown’s posts on Facebook, Nichols was more reserved in his comments.
“I am hopeful the year the year could be more peaceful and quieter if everyone would pause for a few minutes and think before they tweet, post something on social media or say something,” Nichols said. “If they do that, things would be a lot better.”