Judge Brown to judge: straighten up, and cite your authority

Judge Joe Brown, a television court judge, talks to the media outside the federal court in Ocala, Florida in 2008. (Scott Audette/Reuters)
Judge Joe Brown, a former television court judge, talks to the media outside the federal court in Ocala, Florida in 2008. (Scott Audette/Reuters)

If this was some sort of attempt at a viral campaign stunt, it’s the weirdest one yet.

Joe Brown, who is running in the Democratic primary for Shelby County District Attorney in Tennessee, was arrested Monday for being in contempt of court after a heated outburst during a child support hearing. Brown was representing a woman who was brought in on a warrant. He was sentenced to five days in jail, but was released on his own recognizance Monday evening.

Brown, a former Memphis criminal court judge, presided over “Judge Joe Brown,” a syndicated television show he had for 15 years until it was canceled in 2013.

Early Tuesday morning, the Facebook page for Brown’s campaign was updated with a statement: “I’m not broken. I would serve you in a dignified manner; hold strong and vote for me as your next Shelby County District Attorney.” The profile picture was changed to a photograph of Martin Luther King being arrested.

An earlier post from Monday read “Judge Joe Brown, Candidate for Shelby County District Attorney, has been arrested in Shelby County on contempt charges and is serving 5 days in jail. This speaks to the heavy handed, cruel, and inhuman attitude that’s prevalent in Shelby County justice. Judge Joe Brown would change this cold and calculated administering of justice.”

Dan Michael, the chief magistrate judge of the Shelby County Juvenile Court, said Brown “darn near caused a riot in the courtroom, he had people so inflamed.”

But a listen to the audio from the courtroom — there’s no video — suggests Michael’s assessment may have been a tad hyperbolic. In it, Brown is obviously displeased and he raises his voice:

Brown: Find the law. Or I’m reporting you to the court of the judiciary. I’ll have you charged with violation of process. Now, if you want to get into this, let’s get into it. This sorry operation needs to stop.

Magistrate Judge Harold Horne: 24 hours, Shelby County jail [unintelligible]

Brown: Excuse me, if you try to do this, you need to straighten yourself up, and you need to cite your authority.

Horne: Do you wish to have a second day?

Brown: A second date?

Horne: A second day.

Brown: Day? I tell you what, you cite the authority. You find it. I looked it up before I came in here. You have $10 maximum contempt jurisdiction.

Horne: [also unintelligible]

Brown: Ok, I’ll be out very shortly on petition of habeas corpus.”

Decide for yourself:

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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