Lawyers, judges and law enforcement professionals all have a responsibility to uphold the laws of Alabama and the United States. But those who twist the law for their own purposes do a disservice to themselves and to society. As a Birmingham criminal defense lawyer, I was shocked by recent revelations regarding an Alabama judge who reportedly used his authority to allegedly commit sexual assaults on convicted criminals and jail inmates.
According to news articles, former Mobile County circuit court judge, Herman Thomas, was recently acquitted on a number of charges, which included sexual abuse, kidnapping, extortion and sodomy. The initial finding of the court seems to indicate that Thomas is not guilty, however many people may not be convinced. Regardless of the outcome, it was very unsettling for criminal attorneys such as me to hear of a respected judge being accused of this type of alleged activity.
The 48-year-old Thomas resigned from the bench in October 2007, just before he was scheduled to stand trial before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary on multiple ethics violations charges. The complaint, dismissed after Thomas’ resignation, accused him of "extrajudiciary personal contact" with some defendants but does not refer to any sexual contact.
The Alabama State Bar suspended Thomas’ law license in March following the first indictment. The latest indictment has the names of the alleged victims blacked out. Both it and the initial indictment reference Thomas allegedly forcing victims to expose their buttocks and striking them with a belt or paddle.
The March indictment charged Thomas with 57 counts, and a second indictment in August added more. At one point, Thomas faced 105 counts, according to court records. A judge apparently threw out some of them because the statute of limitations had expired.
According to reports, during Thomas’ judgeship he had a storage room furnished like an office near his eighth-floor chamber at Mobile’s Government Plaza. Several criminal defendants have alleged, in affidavits and in court, that Thomas asked to paddle their buttocks in the room, and some said he suggested sexual encounters there, according to newspaper articles.
Citing a state forensics report, the newspaper reported in April that a semen stain found on carpeting in the room matched one of the nine alleged victims from the first indictment.
As would be expected, all Mobile County circuit judges recused themselves from Thomas’ case. According to reports, the Alabama Supreme Court appointed retired Marengo County Judge Claud Neilson to hear the case.
Alabama judge cleared of sex abuse with inmates, AL.com, October 26, 2009
Former judge goes on trial in sex-with-inmates case, CNN.com, October 8, 2009