Judge Joe Brown Challenging Contempt Charges

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Joe Brown gained fame by meting out justice as a TV judge. Now he’s the one facing charges.

Brown, the star of the television show “Judge Joe Brown” and present-day political candidate, has a court hearing April 4 in Tennessee on his challenge of contempt of court charges handed down Monday by a Shelby County Juvenile Court magistrate.

Brown, 66, was arrested and sentenced to five days in jail during an outburst in a child support hearing before Juvenile Court Magistrate Judge Harold “Hal” Horne. Brown was later released from jail by a Circuit Court judge who will hear arguments next week about dropping the charges and sentence, Brown’s lawyer said Tuesday.

Brown, whose nationally syndicated TV show was canceled last year, is running in the Democratic primary for district attorney general in Shelby County, Tennessee’s largest county. Some have described Brown’s outburst as a way to gain publicity for his campaign, while others say the magistrate should not have locked up Brown, a former criminal court judge in Memphis.

In an interview aired Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Brown said his actions were not out of line and he would do the same thing again.

Brown said most lawyers would say “that’s what we do every single day.”

During Monday’s Juvenile Court session, Brown said he was representing a woman who appeared before Horne on a paternity warrant, according to Dan Michael, the juvenile court’s chief magistrate.

Horne had set a future hearing for the woman, but Brown was pushing for dismissal of the case.

In audio provided by the Juvenile Court, Brown repeatedly challenged the magistrate’s authority and Horne threatened to find Brown in contempt. Magistrates are appointed by the elected Juvenile Court judge. Brown continued questioning Horne’s authority with a raised voice, and Horne made good on his threat.

Brown then offered to pay a fine by pulling out cash.

“Now you want to get into this, let’s get into it. This sorry operation needs to stop,” Brown told Horne.

Horne replied: “Twenty-four hours, Shelby County jail for contempt.”

Brown kept arguing, calling the court a “circus.” By the time the exchange was over, Horne had slapped Brown with five contempt charges and ordered his arrest.

His lawyers petitioned for his release on his own recognizance. Brown was let out of jail around 7 p.m. after spending about three hours inside.

Brown’s lawyer, Taylor Eskridge, says the charges and the sentence were not lawful. She said the outburst was not a planned publicity stunt.

“I don’t think he had any way to know that somebody would put him in jail,” Eskridge said. “This took us all by surprise.”

Brown was a judge in Memphis before leaving to dedicate himself to the TV show. His move to run for district attorney has brought out supporters like Julian Bolton, an attorney and former County Commissioner.

Bolton criticized Horne for sentencing Brown to jail.

“It was just preposterous and just insulting,” Bolton said. “They could have just made him leave the courtroom.”

Michael said the magistrate has the authority to maintain decorum in the courtroom and those who disrupt the process are disrespecting the system.

“What I’m trying to get everybody to understand is that this isn’t Hollywood, this is a real courthouse,” Michael said. “These are real cases involving real people with very serious problems.”

If Brown wins the Democratic primary, he will challenge incumbent District Attorney General Amy Weirich, a Republican and career prosecutor.

Weirich’s campaign chairman, Lang Wiseman, said Brown knows how to conduct himself respectfully in a courtroom, but he chose not to do so with his “stunt.”

“You’ve got to wonder, based on what happened yesterday, whether Joe Brown is able to differentiate between real life and TV,” Wiseman said. “It’s not ratings week.”

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