A Democratic Party-backed judge who won re-election in November while facing battery charges was found not guilty Monday — by reason of insanity.
The insanity verdict could aid the judge's effort to return to the bench.
Not long after Judge Cynthia Brim was charged in March with misdemeanor battery for shoving a deputy outside the Daley Center, a panel of supervising judges effectively suspended her, banning Brim from the county's courthouses without a police escort.
Bar associations have recommended since 2000 that Brim be tossed from her $182,000-a-year job, but voters have kept returning her to the bench. Experts have said Brim's case highlights the difficulty of unseating a judge up for retention in Cook County.
On Monday, less than a year after the judge embarked on what attorneys described as a delusional journey across the city that ended with her in handcuffs, Brim sat at a wooden table marked "Defendant" on the 13th floor of the Daley Center for a highly unusual bench trial.
Testimony revealed that Brim has been hospitalized five times after suffering mental breakdowns in the 18 years since she was first elected. In 2004, Brim was carried off the bench at a suburban courthouse after she froze while addressing her courtroom before starting the day, standing mute until someone called paramedics, her attorney said.
Brim, 54, was diagnosed years ago with a bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder, which means she experiences delusions and hallucinations, psychiatrist Mathew Markos testified. The symptoms can be kept in check with medication, he testified.
Prosecutors argued that Brim was "criminally responsible" for her actions last spring as she had chosen once again to stop taking her medications. Her attorney said a psychiatrist had advised her to only take the drugs when she needed to.
"She made the choice, despite numerous hospitalizations, to go off her medications," Assistant State's Attorney Maria Burnett said.
DuPage County Judge Liam Brennan — who was brought in to hear the case — said his verdict is separate from the larger question of Brim's fitness to be a judge. The state's Judicial Inquiry Board is investigating Brim for multiple alleged violations of the code of professional responsibility, an inquiry that could ultimately end with her removal from the bench, her attorney James Montgomery said.
"This is not about the wisdom of allowing this defendant to serve as a judge," Brennan said.
Legal expert Warren Wolfson, who spent 15 years as a trial judge, said the board will want to be sure that Brim is capable of performing her duties on the bench. The board would consider other incidents as well, including the disruption in her own courtroom.
"The issue is whether she has the ability to perform her duties," Wolfson said.
Brim's November re-election campaign was backed by the Cook County Democratic Party as well as the Committee for Retention of Judges in Cook County, a campaign committee funded by judges. Judges need 60 percent of the vote to be retained; failing to meet that mark is rare.
On March 8, Brim was asked to leave the Markham courthouse after going on a tirade while presiding over traffic court, sources told the Tribune last year. The next day, she read a newspaper story about a Cook County judge who was using lots of sick leave and decided to complain to the judicial board, which disciplines judges, about what she viewed as an unfair story.
But she took the wrong bus and ended up on 47th Street, so she decided to make a "march for justice" up to the board's Loop offices, Markos said. After walking more than 5 miles, she at some point went to her attorney's building, but got off at the wrong floor and refused to leave a different attorney's offices, Montgomery said.
That attorney later filed a complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Board, he said.
Brim also went to the Daley Center. After standing in the lobby for about 15 minutes, she asked deputies if any keys had been left at the security station that day, officers testified.
She then left with a set of keys and returned a few minutes later, throwing her own keys on the floor as a protest against the unjust judicial system, Montgomery said. Deputy Nicholas Leone testified that he noticed Brim's set included special security keys for opening courtrooms and judge's chambers in the building.
"I wanted to know why a civilian had those keys," Leone said.