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Judge Cynthia Brim found not guilty by reason of insanity

Judge CynthiBrim (R) her attorney mother walking Cook County Circuit Court. Friday April 13 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Judge Cynthia Brim (R), her attorney and mother, walking to the Cook County Circuit Court. Friday, April 13, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 6, 2013 6:11AM



After figuring out that she had gotten on the wrong South Side bus last March 9, Cook County Judge Cynthia Brim got off somewhere on 47th Street and “marched for justice towards downtown.”

It was one in a bizarre series of events in a day that ended with her arrest on battery charges after allegedly shoving a sheriff’s deputy outside the Daley Center court complex. That story was told in the testimony that Judge Liam Brennan heard at Brim’s trial Monday at the Daley Center. He decided that Brim — who has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type — was not guilty by reason of insanity.

At one point during closing arguments, Assistant State’s attorney Maria Burnett argued that the officer was battered and that Brim knew what she was doing. Brennan interjected: “The court is completely convinced the battery occurred.”

But Brennan couldn’t ignore the weighty mony of a forensic psychiatrist who determined that Brim was “legally insane” at the time of the incident — not to mention her history of mental illness that had required hospitalization — along with the arrest reports of sheriff’s deputies, who described her as “irrational” and “catatonic” that day. In the simplest terms, Brennan believed the defense’s argument that as a result of her mental illness, she didn’t know she was committing a criminal act.

Now Brim will undergo an Illinois Department of Human Services evaluation to help the judge determine whether to order mental health treatment, which could include a stay at one of the state psychiatric hospitals in Elgin or Chester.

Brim, 54, didn’t talk with reporters after the verdict, but her attorney, James D. Montgomery Sr., said she was eager to get back to work. She was put on indefinite suspension by a panel of Cook County supervising judges in the days after her arrest, though she continues to collect a $182,000-a-year paycheck.

During the one-day trial Monday, Brim’s struggles with mental health problems — tied to going off her medication — were laid bare. Since 1993, the year before she was elected to the bench, Brim has been hospitalized five times for psychotic episodes. In one case, she was carried out of a courtroom on a stretcher, testified Dr. Mathew Markos, a psychiatrist who heads the Cook County court system’s forensic clinical services. Details about that incident weren’t available.

In the weeks after Brim’s arrest, she stayed first at Northwestern Hospital and then at Hartgrove psychiatric hospital on the West Side. In June, court order in hand, Markos testified, he evaluated her to see if she was fit to stand trial. While he determined she was, he said it was his opinion that she was “legally insane” at the time of the incident.

During that exam, Brim shared with him a chaotic March 9 that began with her reading a story online that criticized a friend and fellow judge, Markos told the court.

She decided she would complain to the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board about the article — even though it has no authority over the media — and set off for its offices downtown. Suddenly realizing she was traveling on the wrong bus, Brim hopped off somewhere on 47th, and in a one-woman protest, “marched for justice, towards downtown,” Markos said.

A confusing sequence of events played out with Brim deciding she wanted to stop at several locations downtown: her attorney’s office, the Thompson Center, even a television station to complain about the news article, but she either scuttled those plans or was turned away by a locked door, according to Markos and other testimony offered Monday. Twice she stopped off at the Daley Center — once making her way to the seventh floor before returning to the lobby.

On the first visit, around 4:45 p.m., Brim caught the eye of Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Leone, who testified that she was wearing hospital scrubs along with a fur coat and hat.

“She just seemed out of place — she didn’t look like she had a purpose,” he said, noting he didn’t realize she was a judge until later. Brim had been assigned to the suburban Markham courthouse at the time of the alleged incident downtown.

Around 5 p.m., Brim returned to the courthouse — this time throwing what turned out to be a set of building keys that “only deputies and judges should have access to,” said Leone, who was growing concerned.

Sheriff’s Deputy Herbert Edwards testified that at that point he followed Brim outside, repeatedly asking her to stop and return to the Daley Center to discuss the keys. She was silent the entire time as she walked toward Dearborn and Randolph. Then Edwards stood in front of her, and “she raises her hands . . . and pushed me in the chest area,” he testified.

Several other deputies arrived, handcuffed her and took her to lockup. Sheriff’s Deputy Deb Salzman testified that he filled out an assessment about the still-silent Brim, checking “yes” on the form where it asked whether the arrestee was “despondent” or “irrational.” Cook County Judge Pamela Hill-Veal — identified as Brim’s cousin — also was summoned to the lockup to help with the court paperwork, according to court testimony.

In deciding the case, Brennan — a DuPage County judge summoned to preside at the trial after two Cook County judges recused themselves — briefly addressed the elephant in the room before delivering the verdict: Brim’s future on the bench.

“This case is not about the wisdom of this person serving as a judge,” Brennan told the court before handing down his verdict.

A former chairman of the agency charged with investigating judicial complaints said he couldn’t recall an instance in which questions were raised about a judge’s sanity.

“In Illinois, the suggestion a judge suffered a mental disability such that it impaired their performance, that’s a rare, if not unique, circumstance,” said Bob Cummins, who chaired the Judicial Inquiry Board between 1979 and 1987.

But he said the board clearly has the right to investigate a judge if there is a complaint she is “physically or mentally unable to perform her duties.”

Even with an insanity finding by a court, Brim can’t be removed from office unless a complaint is filed by the Judicial Inquiry Board and a hearing before the Illinois Courts Commission determines that the complaint is justified, an Illinois Supreme Court spokesman said.

“That’s a constitutional requirement,” Supreme Court spokesman Joseph Tybor said.

There is a pending Judicial Inquiry Board investigation involving Brim, according to her attorney, Montgomery. That inquiry stems from March 9, when she went to an attorney’s office in Montgomery’s building and refused to leave.



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