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Brown resignation ends colorful career

The controversial political career of the chief appellate judge in north Louisiana has come to a sudden end, with electoral reverberations for others to follow.

Earlier this month, former Second Circuit Court for Appeals Judge Henry Brown abruptly resigned. He could have served through 2020, winning his first term in 1990, although because he would have been well above the age of 70 for the next election he couldn’t have run again. The circuit includes all of north Louisiana, although his particular district stretched from Bossier to Caldwell Parishes.

The state’s Judiciary Commission stood poised to discipline him, with him apparently ordered by the Supreme Court not to carry out the duties of his office. It appears complaints against him that he tried to interfere in a case heard by some of his colleagues led to that command, triggering his resignation.

The case involved a woman appealing an award against her. She knew Brown from a house sale so for that reason he couldn’t be assigned to the three-judge panel hearing the case. However, one of Brown’s law clerks was fired earlier this year for activities connected to that case now under investigation by the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office.

It’s not the first time Brown found himself enmeshed in a hullabaloo. Prior to his election, Brown had served for 15 years as Bossier/Webster Parish District Attorney, succeeding Charles “Corky” Marvin with his election to the Second Circuit (his son Schuyler now serves as 26th District DA).

Brown became known for his aggressive prosecutions for murder, which brought him national publicity. Yet perhaps he became most famous for one of that kind of case he ultimately didn’t win, the murder of Vicki Thomas allegedly by James Monds. Brown initially secured a conviction, but years later the Fourth Circuit (the Second having recused itself) overturned it.

More interestingly, Monds’ attorney John Milkovich ended up accusing Brown and the presiding district judge Graydon Kitchens not only of legal errors, but of Brown and Monds’ former wife plotting to kill Thomas. The claim of Milkovich, subsequently elected to the state Senate in 2015, Brown’s successor Jim Bullers declared nonsensical.

A few years prior to this, Brown found himself subject to another unusual charge. Part of the testimony in a federal case involving immunity of federal law enforcement officers was an accusation of corrupt activities in Brown’s office (interestingly, one party to the case represented by Milkovich). It featured plenty of rumor, but no evidence of the charge’s veracity.

Still another high-profile case involved Brown tangentially. In 2008, Charles Pilkinton was arrested for killing a man in the company of his estranged wife. Testifying on his behalf at his bond hearing was old family friend Brown. Two years later, after one mistrial Pilkinton pled guilty to manslaughter.

This wasn’t the first time a spouse of Pilkinton’s was involved in a mysterious death. In 1982, his previous wife was found dead. Brown, then DA, chose not prosecute anyone for it with the death ruled a suicide. Nor was it the first time Pilkinton was involved in a murder trial; he sat on the jury that convicted Monds, the conviction asked for by his friend Brown.

With a lengthy career punctuated by events out of the ordinary, if not bizarre, perhaps it seems fitting that Brown’s life in elective office would end in the way that it did. And it might have political repercussions for two figures.

One is Milkovich, a Democrat who next year must defend his seat in a Republican-leaning district. He hasn’t gone on the record in recent years about his statements concerning Brown nearly a quarter-century ago, but with Brown’s departure opponents might find a way to force that episode into the public spotlight as part of the campaign.

The other is Schuyler Marvin. He may wish to emulate his father with a seat on the court, but his timing in 2020 would have been bad: Brown’s spot would have come open at the same time he would have to run for reelection, meaning he would have had to choose between the two posts with his next chance at age 68. Now he doesn’t have to; with a special election early next year, he can take a shot and not give up his chance to continue as DA.

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