Local News

State Bar suspends license of former Durham public defender

Posted February 10, 2009 9:30 a.m. EST

— The North Carolina State Bar on Monday suspended the law license of a former Durham County public defender, saying he used his office to sexually harass female employees.

Robert Brown Jr. won't be allowed to practice law for five years under the order by the State Bar's Disciplinary Hearing Commission.

Brown resigned as public defender three years ago after one of his assistants accused him of sexual harassment. He had served as Durham County's lead defense attorney for indigent people since 1992.

The disciplinary commission said evidence showed Brown repeatedly asked Danielle Bruno, an assistant public defender, and legal assistants Janice Ingram and Rachel Allen, about their sexual experiences and told them he could help their careers if they would trust him. Evidence showed he would try to sit close to the women in closed-door meetings and would touch them inappropriately, the commission found.

Citing a previous allegation of sexual misconduct against Brown – he pleaded no-contest in 1996 to grabbing a woman – the commission said a tough sanction was warranted.

"(Brown's) conduct caused harm and significant potential harm to the public defender's office, to the legal profession, to the administration of justice and to the public by undermining public confidence in (his) ability," the commission said in its 10-page order. "Entering an order imposing lesser discipline than an active suspension would fail to acknowledge the seriousness of the misconduct engaged in by (Brown) and would send the wrong message to the attorneys and the public regarding the conduct expected of members of the Bar."

Brown can apply for reinstatement of his license after three years, the commission said. To have the final two years of his suspension lifted, he would have to have two evaluations by psychiatrists experienced in treating sex offenders and would have to undergo any counseling they recommended.