Judge Joe Brown rules in favor of mountain town | AspenTimes.com

Judge Joe Brown rules in favor of mountain town

Kimberly Nicoletti
Television's Judge Joe Brown. (Contributed photo)

A Kansas man claims he couldn’t have damaged his ex-girlfriend’s car because they were having sex at the time of the break-in: This is the kind of case Judge Joe Brown presides over every week.It’s no wonder he needs a mountain retreat in Aspen.Brown’s unconventional, no-holds-barred approach in the courtroom has rocketed his daytime television show, “Judge Joe Brown,” into the No. 2 slot for syndicated court shows, after Judge Judy. Local viewers can watch him on KDVR from 1-3 p.m. weekdays, but Aspen residents also may see him eating at the Caribou Club or racing down the mountain in the Aspen Times Town Race Series. Brown and his wife, Debra Herron-Brown, bought a five-bedroom condo in Aspen last spring. He began skiing at 52, and now, six years later, says he can “get down anything you have on that mountain.”He discovered the need for speed at his first celebrity race at Deer Valley, Utah. His second race was a little dicey; a whiteout prevented him from seeing the gates, but he decided, in a banzai moment, to go for it. Two-thirds of the way down, he clipped a gate, crashed, flipped over and found himself on his feet again, so he kept going.He said he would have loved to race this weekend in the downhill in the town series, but he’s taping his show in Los Angeles, then jetting off to Canada to ski.Serving for a decade as a judge of the Shelby County, Tenn., criminal courts and hearing 85 cases a day, then listening to 12 or 14 cases daily for his television show, has made Brown an expert in human psychology and behavior. And he’s not afraid to extend his opinions about the people in Aspen.

“The people who get on the mountain tend to be OK. The people who have made their money are friendly,” he said. “It’s the people with daddy’s money; they act like they have lost their minds. They don’t know what polite is.” He might not give those ill-mannered youngsters a piece of his mind when they’re misbehaving at the Caribou Club, but when people act inappropriately and come to his courtroom, look out.”When he finds the bad guy, he tees off,” executive producer John Terenzio said.

After seeing a population where 62 percent of women and men younger than 35 were convicted of criminal offenses, he began to get creative in sentencing first-time, nonviolent offenders.For example, rather than putting a burglar in jail, he would put the offender on probation and offer a type of informal restitution: The victim of theft would make an unannounced visit to the burglar’s house and seize any property the victim wanted, up to the stolen value. And if the victim happened to end up with items stolen from another home, “heaven help” the criminal, Brown said.Brown grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles. Through example, his parents taught him to tough it out and make a difference in people’s lives.Brown choose education over the drugs and violence his peers fell victim to. He majored in political science at UCLA, paying for school by loading trucks and digging ditches, then earned his law degree from UCLA while substitute teaching. Within five years of graduation, he became the first black prosecutor for Memphis. In 1978, he launched a private practice, then returned to public service in 1990 when he was elected judge of the state criminal courts for Shelby County. He was the first person in Shelby County to win every precinct on a contested election since 1864.His unique, in-your-face courtroom tactics brought him into the national spotlight when “Nightline” ran a series on community-based corrections. His reputation broadened after he was assigned to reopen the case of the late James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of Martin Luther King Jr.

When television producers saw not only his record but also his charisma, they asked him to shoot a pilot for “Judge Joe Brown.” The show is now in its ninth year. Terenzio credits the show’s run to Brown’s caring and ability to listen. Brown concerns himself with human prosperity, including helping people find order and purpose.”I listen to young people talk about what’s happening in their world, and I tell them about how I survived in South Central,” Brown said. “Because I overcame the street life and got a good education, they tend to listen to me more than most adults, and I think I give them hope. My goal is to encourage them to be productive members of society instead of potential inmates who waste their young lives away.”He sees his television work as the best way to promote his motto of “protecting womanhood and promoting manhood.””He takes that extra step to talk about where [people] might be able to rehabilitate themselves, turn their lives around,” producer Terenzio said.Brown approaches courtroom drama with a sense of humor and recognizes the inherent entertainment value of courtroom proceedings. Historically, they were the No. 1 form of entertainment in America, he said. Now, television gives audiences a window into court.

But daytime television only can show so much. Brown would love to create a spinoff of his show – “Judge Joe Brown Nightly” – to depict racier details.But until he gets a nighttime slot, he’ll have to keep the “racier” stuff to his hobbies: skiing, horseback riding, diving and swimming with sharks.”That he’s an extremely proficient skier is only an indicator of how much of a thirst this guy has for knowledge and for doing things,” Terenzio said.Kimberly Nicoletti’s e-mail address is knicoletti@aspentimes.com.