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The 'real' Joe Brown

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

In nine days, we will know if former Shelby County Criminal Court judge and TV personality Joe Brown will officially enter the race for Shelby County District Attorney General.

He swept into office at the start of what was perceived as the beginning of a "Golden Age" for African-American-elected officials in Memphis. But Brown wasn't content to blithely dispense justice without weighing in with his own unique brand of jurisprudence mixed with controversy.

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From the moment he hung up his shingle as a defense attorney in Memphis, it became apparent the California-born Brown brought with him an unconventional approach to the practice of law. His compassion, swagger and unpredictability in a courtroom first made headlines in the mid-'80s, when as a lawyer he took on the retrial of the youngest convicted inmate on death row in the country, then 15-year-old West Memphis, Ark., triple murderer Ronald Ward.

"Joe Brown took on that case and while the first trial resulted in the death penalty," said Memphis Daily Reporter Bill Dries. "The second trial resulted in a life sentence for Ronald Ward, and Joe Brown's advocacy for his client played no small part in that."

Elected as a Shelby County Criminal Court judge in 1990, Brown immediately established himself as a justice maverick. His decisions, such as letting crime victims go to the homes of the perpetrators and take their stuff as a form of reparations, were considered by his judicial colleagues as unorthodox.

He also challenged decisions made by other judges. Brown tried to overturn a Chancery Court ruling by freeing former notorious Memphis strip club king, Danny Owens, after he'd served only seven hours of a 10-day sentence. Brown asserted Judge Neil Small had violated Owens' constitutional rights.

"I want the valid order of the court to be carried out, without the interference from someone who has absolutely no jurisdiction over it," Small said.

"I said when I got into reading it, I asked you not to film until I got through laughing," Brown said. "I'm not angry. It would be humorous if it were not so tragic."

Brown had numerous run-ins with Shelby County Juvenile Court founder Kenneth Turner. In 1995 he became publicly irritated with then Memphis Police Director Walter Winfrey when his car was ticketed in an illegal parking zone outside 201 Poplar.

Once a Hollywood audition turned into his televised judge show, Brown was hounded about his absences off the bench until he finally resigned in 2000. His memorable tenure as judge was reviled by some, but admired by just as many.

"I like people who are different and bold and he's intelligent," said Judge D'Army Bailey. "He's got a very sharp mind. He reads a lot and he doesn't think on the beaten path."

"You will see a stark difference between Joe Brown and Amy Weirich on how that very important office should be run; if we get a campaign," Dries said. "At this late stage he would most likely be the Democratic nominee for District Attorney General because no one else has even pulled a petition."

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