Judge uses duct tape to silence defendant

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Standing in front of his courtroom podium in Canton, Ohio Judge Stephen Belden shook his head when asked about his unusual recent gag rule.

“Duct tape is a handy tool,” said Judge Belden. “Duct tape and WD-40 are two of the greatest things that have ever been invented.”

On Aug. 27, duct tape moved from the tool kit to the courtroom bench.

Fifty-one-year-old defendant Harry Brown was in Canton Municipal Court for a preliminary hearing to see if there was sufficient evidence for his case to be reviewed by a county grand jury.

Brown had been charged with robbery, obstructing official business and fighting with Wal-Mart security officers.

During the hearing, Brown told Judge Belden that he had fired his public defender. Moments later, Brown began to argue and continually interrupt the judge as he spoke.

The courtroom cameras and microphone were rolling as Judge Belden warned Brown saying, “I’m going to get some duct tape if you keep interrupting…Mr. Smith. I’m going to have the (bailiff) put it over your mouth.”

Brown retorted, “I’m going to go back there.” Judge Belden responded, “you listen to me. No, you can’t go back there and sit. You’re staying right here.” Brown insisted, “no, I’m going…”

Judge Belden looked at his bailiff and said, “Alright, duct tape.” Moments later, the tape was applied to Mr. Brown’s mouth. It was removed a few minutes later to allow Brown to question a witness.

However, when Brown began to argue again, it was put back on.

“I’m not being disrespectful, your Honor,” Brown said. “I think you’re being more disrespectful to me, as, you know…” Judge Belden banged his gavel and said, “OK, that’s it, that’s it. Prelim (preliminary hearing) is over. You’re bound over. I find probable cause. You can go back, down in the basement.”

As he was escorted from the courtroom, Brown uttered obscenities. “OK, you can get 30 more days, on top of whatever you get, for contempt,” Belden told the defendant.

“You have to put your foot down sometimes.” Judge Belden added, “If I did that sort of thing that when I was back in Catholic grade school, if I ever did that to a nun, I would have gotten a lot worse than duct tape, I can tell you that.”

Canton Municipal Court Administrator Michael Kochera said, “Obviously, the judge has a lot of discretion from the bench. He’s got the obligation to maintain order and decorum in the court and he did what he thought was necessary.”

But not everyone is enthusiastic about Judge Belden’s unique courtroom gag order. Defense attorney Jonathan Morris was waiting for a case to be called and said, “I think there will be certain bodies who will investigate to determine where the line is and whether the judge crossed the line in this case.”

Stephanie Brown said, “You going to put duct tape over somebody’s mouth? That’s beyond. No way.”

Defendant Harry Brown remains in the Stark County Jail on $100,000 bail.