Television star Judge Joe Brown attended a fundraiser recently at the Bruce Turner Law Office to kick off the campaign of Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks, who is running for Juvenile Court Clerk.
Brown is also supporting the expected candidacy of current City Court Judge Tarik B. Sugarmon, who confirms there is a "99.9" percent chance that he will seek the Juvenile Court Judge position.
Voters will make the final selection for the offices in the next general election scheduled for 2014. No primary has been scheduled so far. It is up to officials for the Democratic and Republican parties to request a primary if necessary to choose a candidate for each.
Brown's appearance at Brooks' fundraiser came on the heels of the announcement that the immensely popular "Judge Joe Brown" show was being shut down due to a contract dispute with CBS Television. His television career grew from his roots as a judge here in Memphis.
"Actually, I had no intent on running because I thought Shep Wilbun (former Juvenile Court Clerk) would be running, but we spoke and he is not going to contest the seat, so I decided to step in," said Brooks. "I see this as the last leg of a terribly long fight to try to protect our children from a system that is totally in need of change," said Brooks.
Determined to "protect our children's constitutional rights," Brooks, who has been a consistent voice for change at Juvenile Court, noted "changes made on paper" and expressed disappointment at what she has seen since 2007.
"Since this is my final term as County Commissioner (limited to two consecutive 4-year terms), I did not want to see the challenge go unmet," said Brooks. "I've been fighting for kids since I was a school teacher. We need more than someone that can operate the machine, we have to make sure we have someone in there that is not afraid to defend the rights of our children."
With an eye toward unity, Sugarmon said he checked with Judge Ernestine Hunt-Dorse before moving ahead with plans to run. Hunt-Dorse has twice sought the position.
Brown said he wanted to be involved in the Juvenile Court Clerk race because, "There's a travesty that's going on down there that is not just civil, it's criminal. But more than just their treatment of minority children, this business of privatizing the whole operation has a huge impact on what goes on down there."
Saying his heart is still in Memphis, Brown says he keeps updated on local issues.
"For example, if you keep a child down there for 48 hours, the state pays for four days, they reimburse the corporate entity for a week. If they send the child to a facility that keeps them for four days, the state pays for two whole weeks. It's sickening," he said.
"You get this turnstile situation where the corporate entity gets to use the children as pawns in their corporate gain."
Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person, a Republican, has served since 2006. The current Juvenile Court Clerk is Joy Touliatos. The TSD was unable to reach either Person or Touliatos before deadline for comment, including whether they plan to seek re-election.
In March, the U.S. Justice Department's Western District Office, based here in Memphis, won a guilty plea from Juvenile Court's former psychiatric counselor, who was linked to $500,000 in fraudulent health care billing.
The case followed an extensive earlier investigation that concluded that among many questionable practices, Juvenile Court had a history of negative treatment of African-American youth. The official summary notes that Person and his staff were cooperative and had begun to initiate reforms.
The DOJ investigation followed efforts led by Brooks starting several years ago.
Endorsing Brooks and Sugarmon brings Judge Brown full circle. His crusading style of justice actually began in Juvenile Court when legendary Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Turner held the reins.
"I was asked by the sheriff to clear a backlog of cases," said Brown. "Some people had been under arrest for more than two years. I issued a subpoena to Turner but he thought he was too important to respond to the subpoena, so I ordered him arrested and they handcuffed him and brought him before me.
"So they complained to the Court of the Judiciary (and) had a civil hearing and all of the judges ruled in my favor, except one. It eventually went to the Tennessee Supreme Court and they said my remarks were intemperate. But they also had issues with that individual (Turner) and cautioned me that I should tone down my behavior because there were young attorneys there and it would inspire them to be more free with their remarks than they should," Brown said.
"The place had just been integrated not more than a year, and here I was a young, black attorney from Los Angeles with a big afro. So you know how that went over. That man was calling ... black kids pickannies and it didn't sit well with me from day one."
Brown said the work he witnessed done by Judge Sugarmon's father, Russell Sugarmon, also contributed to his decision to get involved with the Juvenile Court Clerk race.
"He was the referee down there over child support and for years he was the only person you could count on to deliver justice," said Brown.