Cook County judge once found insane wants back on the bench
BY STEFANO ESPOSITO AND TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporters March 28, 2014 1:38PM
Judge Cynthia Brim as she enters a hearing room in the State of Illinois building, 160 N. LaSalle. Friday, March 28, 2014 | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
Updated: April 30, 2014 6:06AM
The anger began to bubble up on the morning of March 9, 2012, after Cook County Judge Cynthia Brim found herself at home reading an online news story about a fellow judge who racked up 206 sick days in a single year.
“I felt bad for her. I thought about myself,” Judge Brim testified downtown Friday before the Illinois Courts Commission.
On that same March morning, Brim set off on foot from the South Side to downtown as a self-appointed “champion of the judges” — a bizarre march that ended in a scuffle with a Cook County sheriff’s deputy and Brim’s arrest outside the Daley Center.
On Friday, speaking publicly for the first time about her arrest, Brim told the commission that — after two years of indefinite, paid suspension — she now has a grip on her mental illness and is ready to return to the bench: “I’ve had two years to think about this,” Brim testified. “I have a different understanding and perspective of my condition.”
The commission is considering a complaint filed by the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board. A board attorney argued Friday that Brim remains “mentally unable to perform her duties.”
But Brim — who has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type and has been hospitalized multiple times for mental illness since 1993 — said she now knows she must carefully monitor her condition and keep taking medication regularly.
“You’re not expecting to be cured?” asked John Gallo, an attorney representing the inquiry board.
“I’m expecting to be maintained, as long as I take the medications prescribed,” Brim said.
For more than an hour, Brim testified in intimate detail about how her mental health would, through the years, deteriorate to the point where she “lost control and broke like a pencil.” She said work stresses as well as “negative publicity by the media” contributed to her decline.
Brim recalled taking medications through the years to manage her condition, and then stopping — at her psychiatrist’s recommendation.
Things came to a head on March 8, 2012, when, while on the bench in the Markham courthouse, Brim stopped her court call and railed against the South Holland and Evergreen Park police departments — accusing them of racism: “I said something about men having (testicles), that men were not the only ones who had them,” Brim recalled of her rant. Brim later testified that it was “totally inappropriate for me to say what I did at that time and at any other time.”
On March 9, Brim headed off for her march downtown, testifying Friday that she was trying to find the Judicial Inquiry Board offices. She said she wanted to complain that Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans hadn’t done enough to come to the defense of judges criticized in the media. She testified her recollection of the details of that day was fuzzy.
“I felt I wanted to be the champion — and I wasn’t thinking clearly — of the judges,” Brim testified.
Instead, she ended up being arrested on battery charges after allegedly getting into a scuffle with a sheriff’s deputy outside the Daley Center. Days after her arrest she was suspended with pay from her $182,000-a-year job. In February 2013, a Cook County judge found Brim not guilty by reason of insanity. Brim was ordered to attend monthly appointments with a psychiatrist, a social worker and keep taking any medication prescribed. Brim testified Friday that she’s had no “mania” episodes in two years. But Gallo, an inquiry board attorney, also pointed out she hasn’t had the stress of being on the bench.
Brim’s psychiatrist, Dr. Roueen Rafeyan, testified he is confident Brim has taken her medications as prescribed for more than two years. Rafeyan, who sees Brim monthly, said it takes on average 10 years to properly diagnose bipolar disorder, because it’s often misdiagnosed. He said Brim’s disorder is unconventional: most exhibit symptoms in their teens and 20s. For Brim, symptoms didn’t show until her 30s.
He testified if Brim takes her medications as prescribed, the likelihood of another manic episode is “very minimal.”
“I am convinced she will need to be placed on medications for life,” Rafeyan said. “Getting off medication is not an option for this condition.”
The commission could take months to issue a ruling on the complaint.