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Suspended Mobile judge facing 15 new charges on ethics

MOBILE (AP) — A suspended Mobile judge accused of using his position to help family and friends who were in trouble with the law is now facing 15 additional judicial ethics charges.

Alabama’s Judicial Inquiry Commission doubled its charges against Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas, citing numerous instances in which Thomas, without his colleagues’ knowledge or permission, took over their cases, even after their decisions had been rendered and the sentences on defendants imposed.

“I have no comment” on the new charges, Thomas said.

The commission outlined its reasons for the new charges in a 13-page document that was released Tuesday afternoon. The action was initiated in early May by a letter signed by nearly every one of Thomas’ former colleagues on the 13th Judicial Circuit.

Included in the commission’s amended complaint:

  • In September 2001, Circuit Judge Rick Stout accepted a guilty plea from Fred Bryant, and Bryant got five years suspended with “good behavior.” In December 2002 Stout “revoked completely” Bryant’s probation and ordered him to prison to serve out his earlier suspended sentence. A little more than a month later, the JIC said, “Judge Thomas issued the following order: ‘Defendant’s probation ordered reinstated ... defendant ordered released.’ ”

  • In another case before Stout in August 2003, Stout sentenced Benjamin Kitt to three years of good behavior as a youthful offender and placed him on formal probation. But Thomas stepped in almost immediately and took over Kitt’s case.

    “In his appearance before the Judicial Inquiry Commission on June 29, 2007, Judge Thomas acknowledged that he was personally acquainted with members of Benjamin Kitt’s family, including Mr. Kitt’s mother and brother,” the commission noted.

    The specifics of the complaints filed Tuesday were followed by 15 formal charges, all alleging that Thomas willfully failed to “uphold the integrity and independence” of the judiciary and failed to “maintain and observe high standards of conduct,” failed to respect and comply with the law and failed to conduct himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary.

    Thomas’ troubles began late last year when he helped his cousin and fraternity brother, impeached school board member David Thomas, serve a weeklong jail sentence in the Prichard Jail rather than Mobile County Metro Jail.

    The sentencing Circuit Judge Joseph “Rusty” Johnston had already prohibited this, but Herman Thomas ordered it anyway, then later denied he did it.

    In light of that incident and others, and in the wake of reports published in the Mobile Press-Register, Herman Thomas asked the commission to investigate whether he had done anything wrong.

    The commission ultimately responded with the suspension and filing 15 charges against Thomas, preceding the 15 new charges filed Tuesday.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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