Judge who forced child into lockup, traded F-words with defendant, loses retention bid

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A Cook County, Illinois, judge shown on video forcing a child into a holding cell is only the second judge in the county to lose a retention bid since 1990.

The final count shows that Judge Jackie Portman-Brown fell short of the 60% “yes” vote needed to retain her seat by less than 12,000 votes, Injustice Watch reports.

Portman-Brown was assigned to administrative duties in February after a video showed her placing a child in a holding cell behind her courtroom. The girl was thought to be a relative who was locked up after Portman-Brown gave her a lecture about bad behavior, according to news coverage at the time.

The child appeared to be about 6 to 8 years old and was held for about 10 minutes, according to the prior news coverage.

The other ousted judge, Matthew Coghlan, lost a retention election in 2018. The Chicago Council of Lawyers said Coghlan was well regarded for his legal knowledge, but some lawyers, “particularly those who are nonwhite, believe that he can be condescending and otherwise disrespectful toward nonwhite lawyers and defendants in his courtroom.”

Portman-Brown was an unconventional judge who ran the HOPE court, which sought to keep defendants struggling to comply with probation out of prison, according to Injustice Watch. She would ring a cowbell when a defendant paid off fines and jiggled her keys when warning a defendant of the possibility of jail.

In one instance in June 2015 chronicled by the Chicago Sun-Times, she ordered a defendant to jail for a felony drug arrest while free on bail in a drug case. The defendant protested that he wanted to be home for the birth of his daughter, due in about five days. The defendant said, “Man, f- - - you. Man, f- - - all y’all.”

Portman-Brown responded by calling the defendant a “f- - -er.”

The Chicago Sun-Times obtained the transcript.

“You said, ‘F- - - all you all.’ That’s what you said,” she said. “You told John [the public defender] to f- - - him. You told me to f- - - me, and nobody’s f- - -ing me, f- - -er, just so you know it. That was so ignorant and so disrespectful to do that in front of your family and the child that is here.”

She continued after the defendant apologized.

“You said f- - - him. You said f- - - y’all. When you say f- - - somebody, that’s serious. Them fightin’ words. And if I was in my neighborhood over in Englewood, the robe would be off, and we’d be fightin’. I’d have Vaseline on my face and on my hands, my hair in ponytails, and we’d be fightin.’ You don’t do that. And you know you don’t do that. And you especially wouldn’t do that to a judge, the person who’s deciding your freedom.”

Portman-Brown’s term ends Dec. 7. She could run in the 2022 primary if she wanted to return to the bench.

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