Not the first time ‘Lock ’em up judge’ showed questionable judgment

Cook County Circuit Judge Jackie Portman-Brown, who’s under investigation for placing girl in courtroom lockup, previously traded f-bombs with defendant from bench.

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Five years before she got in trouble for placing a child in her courtroom lockup, Cook County Circuit Judge Jackie Portman-Brown traded f-bombs from the bench with a defendant.

A transcript of the exchange has found its way into my hands.

I’m fairly certain it’s the first time I’ve read a transcript in which a judge calls the defendant a “f-----.”

Judges usually reserve such language for the lawyers — in chambers when there’s no court reporter taking down every word. 

But Portman-Brown is not known for adhering to the decorum normally observed in court.

The self-proclaimed “lock-’em-up judge” favors a keeping-it-real approach more commonly heard on the streets of Englewood, where she grew up.

That unorthodox style won Portman-Brown admirers — including Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans — when she ran a program aimed at keeping drug users and others out of prison.

But her career ran aground two weeks ago when a video surfaced of her locking up a child in the holding cell behind her courtroom as a disciplinary lesson to the girl and favor to the girl’s mother — their version of a “scared straight” program. 

Portman-Brown was placed on administrative duties while the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board investigates.

Some say there were plenty of red flags the judge was in need of an intervention much sooner.

One such incident came June 1, 2015. Benjamin Dawkins, a 22-year-old drug defendant who had been working his way through Portman-Brown’s intensive-probation program, was in court. Dawkins was in trouble because he had been charged in another felony drug case while free on bail in the matter the judge was handling.

“I’m just shocked. I’m shocked and chagrined,” she told him.

Dawkins tried to talk her into letting him post bond to be home for his daughter’s birth, expected five days later.

But Portman-Brown told him: “You should have thought about that before you picked up a new felony. You should have been home with your baby mama instead of being out in the streets putting yourself in a position where you could have got locked up. Now, don’t come in here trying to play the violin for me.”

She ordered him held for violating his probation.

As he was led away, Dawkins “made statements” that were “incomprehensible to the court reporter.”

His words became clear enough after Portman-Brown told deputies, “Bring him back!”

“Man, f--- you. Man, f--- all y’all. You’re tweakin’, man. You all tweakin’, man. You all are tweakin’, man,” Dawkins said. 

“Keep talking,” Portman-Brown said. “Say some more. I welcome you to say all you need to say because that’s what punks do.”

As Dawkins then tried to apologize, Portman-Brown was just working up a head of steam.

“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------ me, f-----, 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 threatened to hold Dawkins in contempt and add six months to his sentence.

After a recess, Dawkins explained he was frustrated about missing his daughter’s birth.

Portman-Brown responded, “And I’m highly offended that you’re all pissed off at me when I didn’t put you here.” 

Dawkins: “I ain’t mad at you.”

Portman-Brown: “You mad at me because you cussed me. You cussed me. You told me to f--- me.”

Dawkins: “I apologize.”

Portman-Brown: “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.” 

A spokesman for Evans said this was the first that the chief judge had heard of the matter.

Portman-Brown couldn’t be reached.

If Portman-Brown ever gets back on the bench, I’d watch out if she comes to work carrying a jar of Vaseline.

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