Judge Joe Brown, host of a nationally-televised courtroom drama series, will speak during Men’s Day at 11:30 a.m. April 10 at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The free, public event will take place in the John M. Ross Theatre of the Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Complex.
Men’s Day began at UAPB to honor men for their contributions to community, education and family, according to Ralph Owens, chair of the event and Associate Dean for Student Activities in the office of Student Involvement and Leadership.
Until April 2001, Brown billed himself as the only sitting judge with his own television show. Following his resignation from the Tennessee Criminal Court, he concentrated solely on hosting his TV series, Judge Joe Brown.
Larry Lyttle, president of Big Ticket Television, said in the company’s show description of the judge is Brown “is magnetic, wise, and compassionate. At the same time, his from-the-streets upbringing gives him a tough-love approach to courtroom justice that endears him to viewers nationwide.”
Brown was born into a tough neighborhood in Washington, D.C., the only child of two schoolteachers. The family moved to south-central Los Angeles when he was young.
Brown saw friends succumb to the harshness and despair of the streets. He said in the show description that he was one of the few children in his neighborhood who did not end up “dead or in jail.” Brown credited education for his escape.
He graduated at the top of his class from Dorsey High School in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles. He then went on to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where he majored in political science and helped pay for classes by digging ditches and loading trucks. Although the law had not been his goal initially, Brown decided to apply to law school at UCLA and was accepted. To support himself while he earned his law degree, Brown worked as a substitute teacher.
In 1973, Brown moved to Memphis to work with legal services and was later employed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He became the city’s first African American prosecutor in the city and then moved to the Public Defender’s office as director.
By 1978, Brown had left public life and opened his own law office. He returned to the public arena 12 years later, when he was elected judge of Division 9, State Criminal Courts, for Shelby County in 1990. He became known for helping childen stay out of trouble and his methods of alternative sentencing. He was known for spending personal time following up on his cases in criminal court, especially those that involved young people. For his work with inner city kids, Brown was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and given the Olender Foundation’s Advocate for Justice Award.
Brown found himself in the national spotlight when, in 1998, he was appointed judge on the reopened case of the late James Earl Ray, who had been convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison for the 1968 assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Ray always maintained he had not been alone in the killing. Although Brown was assigned to preside over the reopened case, he was later removed from the case by the Criminal Court of Appeals, which felt that he had demonstrated bias on the bench. After Ray died on April 23, 1998, the case was closed for a second time. Brown, believing that the full details of King’s assassination need to be brought to light, said later that he felt the case should not have been closed after Ray’s death.