Chicago TribuneJudge wants back on bench after insanity ruling
By Steve Schmadeke Tribune reporter
6:57 p.m. CDT, March 28, 2014
Can a suspended Cook County judge return to the bench after being declared legally insane at the time she shoved a sheriff’s deputy in 2012?
For the first time in Illinois, attorneys on the case say, a judicial disciplinary panel has begun tackling the question of whether a judge whose psychotic episodes can apparently be controlled through medication should be allowed to return to the bench.
Judge Cynthia Brim, 55, testified before the Illinois Courts Commission for more than two hours on Friday in a bid to save her $182,000-a-year job. The seven-member panel – made up of judges from outside of Cook County as well as two citizens – will later issue a written decision.
Brim was found not guilty of misdemeanor battery by reason of insanity last year for shoving a sheriff’s deputy outside the Daley Center during a manic episode in March 2012. A day earlier, while on the bench, she broke into an extended rant while presiding over a traffic court call at the Markham courthouse.
“I just broke like a pencil,” Brim told the commission Friday, saying she was feeling stressed that day because there was only one courtroom deputy present for a busy call. “It was totally inappropriate for me to say what I did at that time – or any other time.”
Brim was effectively suspended from her duties as a judge after the battery charges were filed but was nonetheless returned to the bench by voters weeks later. She has continued to collect her $182,000 salary since her 2012 suspension.
On Friday, Brim said she was once again able to fulfill her duties as judge. Over the last two years, she said, she has consistently taken her medications – a requirement of her probation in the battery case – and has not had any psychotic episodes.
“I can serve as a judge with full capability as long as I continue to take the medication as prescribed,” she said. “I've had two years to think about this, and I have a different perspective and understanding of my condition. I realize now I have to stay on my medications and see a psychiatrist on a regular basis.”
But John Gallo, an attorney for the Judicial Inquiry Board that filed the disciplinary charges, questioned whether it was proper to return Brim to the bench.
If she was allowed to serve again, parties who had important cases before her would soon learn about her past and wonder about her ability, he said.
“They’re looking at a judge who said to a court that she was at one point in time...insane,” Gallo said.
Brim “bears some responsibility for putting herself” in the position that led to her highly public breakdown in 2012, he said.
“Judge Brim decided to go without any kind of psychiatric treatment of any sort after 15-plus years of these episodes while she was a sitting judge,” Gallo said.
Brim, who has been hospitalized at least nine times for mental illness since 1994, acknowledged she had once been carried out of a Bridgeview courtroom on a stretcher after going “catatonic” during her court call. Her physicians had repeatedly allowed her to discontinue taking mood-stabilizing drugs, she said, but she wasn’t diagnosed with a bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder until 2009.
Still, she had once gone off medication on her own and in the two years before her 2012 breakdown had stopped taking medications or seeing a psychiatrist or therapist.
But her psychiatrist, Dr. Roueen Rafeyan, told the commission there was only at most a 10 percent chance that Brim would ever have another relapse and he said others in stressful, important fields can function with the illness.
“There are heart surgeons who have the same diagnosis and operate on patients all day long,” he said.
Brim’s attorney, James Montgomery, suggested that the commission could allow the judge to return to the bench for two years and then revisit the case if it was concerned about her continued stability.