A Bell County justice of the peace who has drawn national attention and a judicial reprimand for setting a $4 billion bail in a murder case, says she and her son face daily harassment, most recently from the Killeen Police Department.
“Oh, my God, yes, every single day,” Claudia Brown told The Texas Monitor today. “I have to fight every day. And my son, the way they are preying on him, he’s having trouble just staying alive.”
Brown set off a battle between the Killeen Police Department and the Temple Daily Telegram when she posted on her Facebook page that police had stopped her son 17 times in one month, sometime during 2017.
The Telegram made a formal request under the Texas Public Information Act for all police records pertaining to Brown’s son, Kevin Anton Davis. The police department failed to meet the legal deadline for providing the records. Linda Pemberton, a city spokesperson, said Killeen is asking the state Attorney General whether it is legally obliged to turn over the records.
Attorney Bill Aleshire, an open records expert in Austin who volunteers for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said nothing the Telegram has asked for should be kept private.
The Texas Monitor Friday made the same request for Davis’ records of Killeen Police Public Information Officer Ofelia Miramontez as the Telegram. Jerry Prickett, assistant managing editor, told The Monitor Friday he would need permission to discuss the fight, but did not follow up on The Monitor’s request. Deborah McKeon, the reporter who made the records request, said she didn’t have permission to speak to The Monitor
Brown confirmed that she had posted the number of stops Killeen Police had made on her son, but would not discuss where that number came from or when and where the stops were made. She said she had qualified people looking into the police records, but would not say who those people were or if they had made a formal request.
She’d rather the media stopped asking questions about it because it has intensified pressure on her son and made it harder for her to do her job. “ As a mother I don’t want this attention for him because it’s hurt him really, really bad. And as a judge, this has made it harder to enjoy this job, to keep this job.”
Brown’s job has been in question almost from the time she was sworn in Jan. 3, 2017 as the only African American Democrat elected official in Bell County. A little more than a month in, Brown made national news when she set bail for Antonio Willis, charged with murder at $4 billion. The New York Daily News reported the bail was $1 billion more than the record amount set in a notorious murder case in 2004 involving New York real estate heir Robert Durst.
Brown told the Telegram at the time she did it to draw attention to high bails that made it impossible for the accused to get out of jail. “At some point in time, I had to alert the system that I am a new judge and I’m committed to changing the system.”
While a state district judge deemed the bail unconstitutional and reduced it to $150,000, Killeen attorney Brett Pritchard filed a complaint to have Brown removed from office for “official misconduct and incompetence,” he told The Texas Monitor Friday. Another local attorney, Jeff Parker, filed a separate complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Anger over the bail reignited when Brown’s son came before her on June 22, on suspicion of driving under the influence. Brown set Davis’ bail at $2,000. Both complaining attorneys added conflict of interest to their complaints.
According to Article 5, Section 11 of the Texas Constitution, “No judge shall sit in any case wherein the judge may be interested, or where either of the parties may be connected with the judge, either by affinity or consanguinity, within such a degree as may be prescribed by law, or when the judge shall have been counsel in the case.”
“We trust our judges to be neutral, to be above board, because we don’t know who they have relationships with,” Pritchard said at the time. “Well, with this judge, she’s just proven it doesn’t matter. I’ve gone back to the County Attorney and told him that I can see no circumstance where she can stay on the bench any longer.”
On Dec. 21, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct reprimanded Brown for her conduct in setting the $4 billion bail and for using her office to “advance the interests” of her son in setting his bail. The commission ordered Brown to complete two hours of training with a mentor. You can read the full text of the reprimand here.
At the time of the reprimand Brown told the Telegram, “I agree with the commission. I respect them. Judges are held to very high standards, and I agree with the commission.”
“I applaud the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct for their decision on reprimanding Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown. 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.”
Less than two weeks later, however, Brown posted on Facebook that she intended to tack her reprimand to the door of her office. “I will wear my scarlet letter of public reprimand by placing it on the door of my office with pride.”
There is nothing about the reprimand that should make Brown proud, Pritchard said Friday. Pritchard never withdrew his complaint and has pressed Bell County Attorney James Nichols to prosecute the case.
Pritchard is more adamant than ever that Brown’s violation of the constitution and conflict of interest disqualifies her for the office of justice of the peace. “This justice of the peace,” he said, “needs to be removed.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected]