Local News

Durham Judge Sidelined from Traffic Cases

Posted August 22, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— A District Court judge facing disciplinary proceedings by the state Judicial Standards Commission is being sidelined from traffic cases.

The decision to remove Judge Craig Brown from hearing traffic or criminal cases at the courthouse and allowing him to hear jail cases came after discussing the matter with Brown and other District Court judges, Chief District Judge Ken Titus.

Titus cautioned the decision was a logistical one and should not be viewed as a condemnation.

``He told me that he was planning to recuse himself from any cases where there may be a conflict of interest, and three attorneys who routinely practice in District Court are involved in the case before the Judicial Standards Commission,'' Titus said. The commission says Brown mishandled two drunk driving cases, making a back-hallway deal in one of them. He allegedly reduced dentist Kenneth Podger's drunk-driving charge to careless and reckless driving.

The Podger case was handled by Assistant District Attorney Brian Beasley and former prosecutor Ralph Strickland, who are facing disciplinary action from the North Carolina State Bar for their role in the dismissal.

Earlier this month Brown filed a response to charges of willful misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice stemming from his handling of the Podger case and one another drunken-driving case.

In the other case, Brown found Ludwig Charles Debraeckeleer, a visiting Duke University professor whose drunken-driving charge he had dismissed, guilty of careless and reckless driving. Brown said he wrongly thought that state law permitted him to replace a drunken-driving charge with one of careless and reckless driving.

Although Brown presided over traffic court and routinely handled DWI cases, the judge was not fully aware of the law, said Brian Aus, Brown's attorney. From Staff and Wire Reports