Judge Joe Brown -- The Memphis judge cooks up creative sentences for criminals

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
October 09, 1992 at 04:00 AM EDT

Actually, Emilio Estevez got off easy in The Mighty Ducks: Coaching a peewee hockey team would be a welcome sentence for anyone convicted in Judge Joe B. Brown’s court in Memphis. Brown, 45, has some less than orthodox ideas about justice. ”What I try to do,” he says gruffly, ”Is get the guy’s goat.”

A criminal case in point: When Carlos Haley was convicted in 1991 of robbing Prentiss Robbins, Brown told Haley he didn’t have go to prison. Instead, victim Robbins was directed to go to Haley’s home and help himself to five items of his choice, so that ”(Haley) might feel the emotional response of having something taken.” For his part, Haley was ordered to see Boys N the Hood (about life in inner-city L.A., where Judge Brown grew up) and write a 10-page report on his impressions of the film.

Think that’s rough? Bounce a check, and Brown will make you come to court and write ”I will never again write nor issue bad paper” 100,000 times. Ignorant of the horrors of prison life? Commit a first-offense felony, and Brown will send you off to the Memphis City Zoo to study the apes, so that you might ”feel what it’s like to be a wild animal locked up.” Uneducated? The conditions of posting your bond before Brown might be earning your General Equivalency Diploma.

Brown, who formerly worked as a public defender and a prosecutor, says he started cooking up punishments like these several years ago, when he decided that dramatic life lessons can be both punitive and rehabilitating. But would Judge Brown ever sentence someone to coach a kids’ hockey team? He never said anything about fun.