Illinois Courts Commission removes Cook County judge from bench; says mental health issues interfere with duties and puts public at risk

By Bethany Krajelis | May 9, 2014

A Cook County judge declared legally insane over a 2012 manic episode that resulted in her arrest for shoving a sheriff’s deputy has been stripped of her judicial duties.

In an order released today, a panel of the Illinois Courts Commission said Cynthia Brim’s conduct “was damaging to public confidence in the judiciary” and the “only appropriate remedy” is to immediately remove her from the office she was elected to in 1994.

The decision marks the first time since 2004 the commission has removed a judge from the bench, according to orders listed on the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board’s website.

The panel notes in its five-page order it is “sympathetic to Brim’s mental health issue”, which includes a diagnosis of a bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder, but that “our main concern … is to protect the public by ensuring the integrity of the judicial system.”

“The Commission finds that [Brim] suffers from a mental disability that persistently interfered with the performance of her judicial duties” the order states. “[Brim’s] repeated failure to follow through with proper medical treatment resulted in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice and brought the judicial office into disrepute.”

The conduct at issue in Brim’s disciplinary case occurred over a two-day period in March 2012.

On March 8, according to the panel’s order, Brim abruptly stopped the traffic court call she had been temporarily assigned to at the Markham courthouse and sat silently on the bench for several minutes before making numerous, unusual comments.

Those comments, made in open court, included Brim saying her grandmother had been raped by a white man, blacks and Hispanics were being targeted by police, “Justice is all about if you’re black of white,” she was being set up to be removed from office, and that she had been in a mental hospital before and expected the county would send her to one after leaving that day, the order notes.

The next day, Brim pushed a sheriff’s deputy when he tried to confront her about why she had claimed a set of lost keys and then returned a set of facility keys for the Daley Center intended only for authorized individuals.

Brim, who had previously been hospitalized at least a handful of times in the past 18 years for psychiatric-related issues, received treatment and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features following the March incidents, according to the order.

The March 9 shuffle with the sheriff’s deputy resulted in Brim being arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery, as well as the rare move from the court’s executive committee announcement to remove her from judicial duties until further order of the court.

The judge assigned to preside over Brim’s battery case ordered a psychiatric examination to determine if she was mentally fit to stand trial. A psychiatrist determined Brim was legally insane when she incident took place, but was mentally fit to stand trial on medication.

Following a bench trial, the trial judge in February 2013 declared Brim not guilty by reason of insanity. He also ordered Brim be conditionally released for a five-year-period and receive outpatient mental health services.

The commission held a hearing over Brim’s case in late March, when she testified she was capable of resuming her judicial duties as long as she continued to take medication.

Brim, who did not deny any of the allegations, told the commission stress and being overworked triggered the episode and while others may see she’s in the process of a breakdown, she does not.

“The judicial office, due to the nature of the issues addressed and the extent of the caseload, is stressful,” the commission wrote in the order. “[Brim's] breakdowns are chronic and happen suddenly. The public expects and deserves predictability in the judicial process, and the unpredictable and unrecognizable nature of respondent’s mental illness places the public at risk.”

The panel noted that although testimony presented at the March hearing indicated the likelihood of Brim experiencing another episode would be minimal with medication, it found “there was still a five to 10 percent chance.”

That, as well as Brim’s history of mental illness and the incidents that spurred the proceedings, show that she “is unable to uphold the integrity of and promote public confidence in the judiciary,” the commission held.

The panel that issued the order in Brim’s case was made up Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who chairs the commission; Fifth District Appellate Court Justice Richard Goldenhersh; Second District Appellate Court Justice Mary Seminara-Schostok; Kankakee County Circuit Judge Kathy Bradshaw-Elliott; Macon County Circuit Judge Albert G. Webber; and citizen members Alexandra de Saint Phalle and Linda Pauel.

According to the order, the Judicial Inquiry Board was represented by Sidley Austin LLP and Brim was represented by James D. Montgomery & Associates Ltd. and William J. Harte Ltd. before the commission.

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