Former TV judge Joe Brown, 66, has surrendered to Tennessee deputies to begin serving a five-day jail term for contempt of court. Brown was held in contempt by Magistrate Judge Harold Horne for an outburst in Juvenile Court in March 2014. He took the issue all the way up to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which denied Brown’s application to appeal a Court of Appeals upholding the ruling. Brown called the court a “circus” and a “sorry operation.” Of course real judges do not have producers and set designers. When Horne told him to stop, Brown did not. He gave him a day in jail but Brown continued until he had five days in jail.
I am admittedly not a fan of faux television judges who, in my view, degrade our profession and trivialize the legal process. (here). However, this appears an inevitable conflict between a real and a faux judge. Brown was once a Tennessee judge on the State Criminal Court of Shelby County, Tennessee. He actually presided over James Earl Ray’s last appeal of Ray’s conviction for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. but was removed for alleged bias (he allegedly told former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and the Congressional Black Caucus that Ray’s rifle was not the murder weapon). What was telling is that it was his removal controversy that reportedly attracted the producers of Judge Judy to Brown as a real possible talent as a faux judge.
In his appeal earlier, Brown said the audio recording of his confrontation with Horne was edited but the Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk insisted that the only edit was inconsequential. In the transcript, Brown is shown objecting on behalf of a woman who had appeared for a child-support hearing but was told that the opposing party was not given notice. While the woman had represented herself pro se, Brown stepped up and demanded that the court decide the case immediately. He then threatened to file a habeas corpus petition and “close this place down” if the woman has to return for another hearing. Horne warned him that he was close to contempt to which Brown responded that Horne did not have authority to hear the case. The appellate court described his delivery as “a condescending manner.” That was enough for Horne who said “Mr. Brown, the Court finds you in contempt.” Brown then offers 10 bucks as the most that he could be fined, but Horne gave him 24 hours in jail. Brown then continues to argue and Horne threatened additional days. Brown was not done. Neither was Horne. After the “circus” comment, Brown was up to three days and he told the court “You can do all you want.” Horne did. He gave him four days. Brown then argued about jurisdiction again and was given five days.
I have criticized Brown, as I have Judge Judy and other entertainment judges, for his demeanor and circus-like treatment of the law. He appears to have forgotten the distinction between real and faux courtrooms when he ran into Horne.
Here is the appellate opinion: Brown ruling