Brett Barrouquere, AP, April 19, 2007
A western Kentucky judge was suspended without pay for 15 days for jailing 17 Hispanic immigrants indefinitely after asking federal authorities to investigate their status.
The state Judicial Conduct Commission on Thursday ordered Judge Sue Carol Browning, who oversees cases in Logan and Todd counties, off the bench from April 28 through May 12.
Browning ordered the men detained after they were stopped for traffic infractions. Some were held without bail for as long as three weeks in August and September.
The commission said Browning violated the canons of judicial conduct by instructing police officers to arrest immigrants without identification during traffic stops, then denying the men a right to bail.
“The Commission has concluded that it should have been obvious to Judge Browning as a sworn judge to support the Constitution that her denial of the right to bail in 17 cases was seriously wrong,” commission Chairman Stephen Wolnitzek of Covington wrote in the decision.
Circuit Judge Tyler Gill ruled in October that the men were “jailed without reason.”
Browning, who had no prior infractions with the commission, agreed to the suspension. She did not immediately return a call for comment.
Paul Witte, a pastoral associate for St. Susan Catholic Church in Elkton who works with immigrants, filed the complaint against Browning that led to the suspension. Witte said he was surprised by the suspension because Browning has backed off jailing immigrants for minor offenses in recent months. Before that, though, Browning routinely sought to jail immigrants for crimes that otherwise would be handled with a fine, Witte said.
“She was being very harsh in her treatment of them,” Witte said.
Browning previously has ordered illegal immigrants in her court to leave Kentucky as a condition of probation and had given some 72 hours to do so, court records show.