The controversial bail hearing was not taped; human error blamed


The only people who know what happened in a Milwaukee County courtroom last month when Darrell E. Brooks Jr. – now charged with six homicides in attack on Waukesha Christmas Parade – was released on $ 1,000 bail are those there that day.

They do not speak.

And there is no audio recording of what happened.

Court officials say they only discovered the missing tape after the attack on the Waukesha Parade, when they responded to media requests for copies of the hearing tape.

Brooks was released on bail on November 5 previous accusations of running over someone with the same vehicle used to crash into parade participants and spectators. A day after the attack, the Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said overworked aide mistakenly recommended $ 1,000 bail, which, he admitted, was “inappropriately weak”.

Darrell E. Brooks Jr. in Waukesha County Circuit Court on November 23, 2021.

When court officials attempted to retrieve the recording to create a transcript, they said they only found a blank digital file.

Court officials accuse systems of convergence adopted for virtual hearings during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

“No one has deleted or erased an audio file,” court administrator Holly Szablewski told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “What exists is an audio (recording) file that contains no sound due to the old audio system or the courtroom microphones being turned off.”

In Milwaukee County, jailed defendants appear for the first time before a court commissioner in a courtroom at the Criminal Justice Center.

At hearings, defendants enter a plea and the commissioner usually finds probable cause after reviewing the complaint brought by a prosecutor and setting the conditions for bail or release.

State law does not require a human court reporter. The deputy court clerk in the room makes a brief entry of the basics – similar to meeting minutes – in each case file. The entry includes who appeared and a summary of what happened.

In Brooks’ case, the entry says he appeared with lawyer Victoria McCandless, Assistant District Attorney Carole Manchester was there for the state, and Court Commissioner Cedric Cornwall set bail for $ 1,000 and ordered the highest level of surveillance if Brooks posted it. Cornwall has set a preliminary hearing for a week later. The minutes also indicate that the hearing was digitally recorded.

In Milwaukee County, hearings are usually also digitally recorded and stored. If someone later wants a transcript, a court reporter prepares one while listening to the recording.

Szablewski said a review by state and county IT staff did not reveal any issues with the recording equipment in the admissions courtroom. The county owns and operates the equipment.

But on the Friday afternoon that Brooks appeared, and for the next three days, no recordings were made, Szablewski said. This happened as the room was occupied by three court commissioners and various deputy clerks.

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What the computer review found, she said, was that the new digital audio-visual system allowing virtual broadcasting was not properly integrated with the old audio system. Each worked independently.

The admission to detention courtroom has always made greater use of an audio system, as the public gallery is separated by thick, soundproof glass.

“For this reason, if courtroom staff were to cut off power to the old audio system without their knowledge, it would prevent sound from entering the digital audio recording unit,” Szablewski said. .

“Or, if courtroom staff turned off the old system’s microphones without their knowledge, it would prevent audio recording.”

Szablewski said there were a few other occasions beyond the four days in November where tapes were missed in the same courtroom, CJF 137A, and that she and Chief Justice Mary Triggiano are working with IT staff on how to make the recording system more foolproof. .

She added that they also reminded court commissioners to always check that “the audio system in the courtroom, the microphones of the digital audio recording unit and the digital audio recording unit are turned on. and function properly before starting the hearings “.

Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.


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