Court dismisses case against judge; appeal filed

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   A lawsuit filed against Criminal Court Judge Lynn Brown by an Elizabethton businessman who alleged he was wrongfully imprisoned has been dismissed.
   Sossner Steel Stamps owner Neil Friedman alleged that he was wrongfully imprisoned by Judge Brown following a probation revocation proceeding. Friedman said the judge's actions were based on personal hostility and sought damages for alleged violation of his civil rights, false imprisonment and outrageous conduct.
   Judge Brown, represented by the state attorney general, moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming judicial immunity.
   U.S. District Court Judge William H. Inman, in an order dated July 3, stated that while the bar of judicial immunity is not absolute, the exceptions to the rule did not apply in Friedman's case since Judge Brown's actions were judicial in nature and he had jurisdiction over the kind of case involved.
   "The Motion to Dismiss is well taken and is accordingly granted," Inman ruled, assessing costs in the civil action to Friedman.
   Thomas Cowan, Friedman's attorney, has filed notice that he will appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeals in Knoxville.
   The case against Judge Brown was filed following a hearing in which Brown refused to dismiss a violation of probation charge against Friedman and revoked his bond, ordering him to serve the remainder of an 11-month, 29-day sentence for third-offense DUI. The judge also imposed a consecutive sentence of six months, 30 days for driving on revoked license.
   The case was appealed and the judgment affirmed by the state Court of Appeals in Knoxville in April 1998. Permission to appeal the case to the Supreme Court was denied on Dec. 21, 1998.
   In a hearing conducted the next day, Friedman's DUI sentence was reduced to 120 days, which he served, followed by seven months, 29 days' probation.
   In August 2000, probation violation warrants were issued for Friedman after it was alleged that he had committed an assault in Sullivan County in October 1999 and failed to report his arrest and conviction to his probation officer.
   At a probation revocation hearing Oct. 2, 2000, the district attorney general withdrew from the case because Friedman was to be a witness for the prosecution in a bribery case. On Oct. 18, the assistant district attorney pro tem said the trial court's jurisdiction had ended because the violation of probation warrant had not been issued within 11 months, 29 days from the date of Friedman's incarceration. Judge Brown disagreed and ordered Friedman to serve out his sentence, less credit for time served.
   Attorney Cowan appealed the decision and the appeals court reversed the trial court judgment on Sept. 24, 2001.
   Last month, Judge Brown filed an order in Carter County Criminal Court stating that, in accordance with the appellate court ruling, an order should be entered setting aside the violation of probation order.
   Despite the third-offense DUI conviction, Friedman later received a valid driver's license and earlier this year, within approximately a month's time, Elizabethton Police Department officers issued him two speeding tickets and a citation for failure to yield to a traffic control device.
   According to the June filing, Friedman's driving privileges were ordered revoked for six years, effective Jan. 4, 1999. Judge Brown stated that Friedman's driver's license, "if any, should be filed with clerk as in all other cases of DUI."
   The matter is set for next week before Judge Robert Cupp. Brown recused himself from the case, citing a conflict due to Friedman's civil lawsuit against him.