BELTON — A petition to remove newly elected Bell County Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown from office was filed Wednesday by a Killeen attorney, seeking she be suspended until trial to determine whether she is qualified.
The petition is permitted under Chapter 87 of the state Code of Criminal Procedure and filed with the county clerk by Brett Pritchard.
“I cannot stand by and watch a judge use her position to undermine the public confidence in our judiciary,” Pritchard said when asked Wednesday why he filed the petition. The petition requests that someone be appointed to handle Brown’s duties before the issue is heard in a civil court, he said.
It is the second complaint filed against Brown in a week.
On Friday, Belton attorney Jeff Parker filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after Brown assigned a record-setting $4 billion bond against Killeen murder suspect Antonio Marquis Willis in what she said was a protest against the legal system. District Court Judge John Gauntt ruled the bond amount unconstitutional and reduced it to $150,000.
Since then, Brown has set bonds on the low side, prompting more action from county officials.
This week, a $1,000 bond set by Brown for 24-year-old Chance Pearson, charged for a felony sexual assault, was set aside after a motion was filed by District Attorney Henry Garza. Gauntt raised Pearson’s bond to $125,000.
In his petition, Pritchard cited the oath Brown took Jan. 2 to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of the state. Pritchard cited interviews Brown gave to the Temple Daily Telegram and KCEN about her reasons for setting bonds so high, and for the lower bonds she recently handed down.
After Gauntt raised Pearson’s bond, a warrant was issued for Pearson to be arrested since he was not in the Bell County Jail.
Garza said he filed the motion to increase the bond for the second-degree felony sexual assault charge in light of the nature of the offense, and for the safety of the victim and the community. Gauntt increased the bond and added a special condition that Pearson have no contact with the victim.
Pritchard listed the Constitution, statutes and canons of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct that Brown reportedly violated in his petition, including setting excessive bail; failure to establish, maintain and enforce high standards of conduct; using the prestige of her office to advance private interests; and failure to perform duties without bias or prejudice.
Pritchard said Brown should be found guilty of incompetence and official misconduct.
Brown did not return a call by the Temple Daily Telegram by press time Wednesday. A day earlier, she told a reporter to never call again and ended the call.
Brown is the county’s only Democratic official, and a former Killeen City Council member. She was elected in November. She became well known after the $4 billion bond set on a first-degree murder charge when it received national attention.
Brown admitted to reporters that she knew the $4 billion bond was unconstitutional when she set it, and did so to make a point about the legal system.