Court upholds judicial immunity for judge

By Thomas Wilson

   The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled judicial immunity shields a Criminal Court judge from civil liability in a lawsuit filed by a local businessman.
   The appellate court ruled 3-0 that Judge Lynn Brown had judicial immunity for his action taken against Neil M. Friedman in a criminal case three and a half years ago. Judge Herschel P. Franks delivered the opinion of the court on Wednesday.
   President of Sossner Sales Corp., Friedman had sued Brown alleging wrongful incarceration after the judge issued an arrest warrant on Friedman for violating his probation. The county's Circuit Court ruled Brown was immune for actions taken against Friedman in court.
   According to the court documents, Friedman was convicted by a jury of a third DUI offense and driving on a revoked license on Jan. 30, 1997. He was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days incarceration in the county jail, fined $5,500 and had his driving privileges revoked for six years. The sentence was suspended and reduced to probation except for 30 days. Friedman served the jail sentence beginning Jan. 4, 1999. On Aug. 17, 2000, Brown initiated the issuance of an arrest warrant against Friedman for violating the terms of probation, and the defendant was re-incarcerated from Aug. 17 to Dec. 21, 2000.
   At a hearing on Oct. 18, 2000, Friedman's attorney filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The motion was denied, despite concurrence by the assistant attorney general pro tem recommending that the proceedings against the plaintiff be dropped. Friedman was ultimately released by order of the Court of Criminal Appeals. That court held that Brown had no authority to revoke the probation and ordered the serving of the original sentence.
   Friedman then filed the civil action against Brown alleging false imprisonment, outrageous conduct and violation of his civil rights.
   The court cites the state and federal statute of judicial immunity in their opinion. The general rule of judicial immunity holds that a judge is immune from a civil action for damages for his or her judicial actions if the acts were committed within the jurisdiction of his/her court. The rule covers both the state and federal judicial systems.
   The opinion states that the test for analyzing whether a particular conduct is judicial is to consider the nature of the act itself, i.e., whether it is a function normally performed by a judge and the conduct occurred while the judge was acting in his judicial capacity. If the act was based upon an erroneous view of the law, or otherwise totally invalid from a procedural standpoint, it is no less a judicial act, just an incorrect one, the opinion states.
   "The judge's actions as described in the Complaint, were judicial acts," writes Franks. "Immunity is not abrogated, even if the judge acts maliciously or corruptly."