D.C. Judge Sanctioned Over Jailing Talkative Public Defender

Washington, D.C. Judge John Bayly Jr. had accepted a reprimand and apologized for detaining a public defender, Liyah Brown, after she refused to stop talking in his court.

The accounts of the incident suggest that both Bayly and Brown could have acted more professionally, though lawyers have rallied around Brown. The confrontation occurred in a case where Brown was trying to convince Bayly that her client was homeless. Bayly was concerned because the record showed various addresses and wanted to schedule a hearing. The Washington Post reported:

Bayly then tried to set a follow-up hearing as Brown kept speaking and trying to make her point. The judge ordered Brown to remain quiet and take her seat.

When Brown replied that she had to go to her next court hearing, Bayly insisted again that she sit down and warned that she was risking a citation for contempt of court. But Brown kept talking about why she needed to leave.

“Step her back, please. Step her back. Step the woman back, please. She won’t listen to what I’m saying. She’s disrupting the court,” Bayly said, according to the transcript. “Step her back. I’m sorry to have to do this, ma’am, but I don’t know what else to do.”

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The D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure found that Bayly violated an ethics rule requiring judges to be patient, dignified and courteous.

The reprimand and apology are warranted. Brown should not have continued to argue with the court after the judge’s demand, but the judge clearly had too short of a fuse and too great a response to the infraction.

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