Law in Popular Culture

Former TV judge Joe Brown goes to jail after he is found in contempt; hear the audio

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Former TV host Judge Joe Brown was released on his own recognizance Monday evening after being jailed for contempt of court in Memphis on Monday afternoon.

Brown, who is running for District Attorney in Tennessee’s Shelby County, claims his jailing was politically motivated. He was sentenced to five days in jail for contempt after raising his voice and challenging the authority of a county magistrate. CNN, the Washington Post, TMZ and WMC-TV have stories.

WMC-TV and TMZ had audio of the hearing in which Brown was representing a woman sued for child support. According to TMZ, court staff could not find any record of the case. Magistrate Judge Harold Horne then attempts to set a new court date.

“If it pleases the tribunal, I will file a petition for habeas corpus and close this place down like I did before if you make [my client] come back here one more time,” Brown says. The magistrate warns Brown that he is close to finding himself in contempt.

“Excuse me,” Brown says. “On what authority do you sit by the way?” Brown goes on to say that that magistrates in the district need unanimous approval by “every circuit, chancery and criminal court judge. I don’t recall your name’s ever been submitted, sir. This tribunal on a general sessions court’s authority is insufficient to establish you, therefore I challenge your authority to hear it. By the way, what is that? Magistrate, sir? With due respect.”

At another point Brown tells the magistrate, “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.” He also tells the magistrate that his contempt authority allows him only to impose a maximum fine of $10.

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,” according to the Washington Post account.

“This is politically motivated,” Brown said after his release. “[My client has] been going through this for eight years. There was no date of birth, no names, no birth certificate. She doesn’t know who the devil they’re talking about.”

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