Ex-Judge to Stand Trial on Sex Charges

Phillip Rawls, AOL News, October 5, 2009

Herman Thomas had an enviable political record as a black Democrat elected and re-elected in a county overwhelmingly white and increasingly Republican. The respected circuit judge once was the Democratic Party’s choice to be the first black federal judge in south Alabama.

Then his career collapsed under allegations that he brought inmates to his office and spanked them with a paddle. Later, an indictment accused him of sexually abusing male inmates in exchange for leniency. The trial on charges of sodomy, kidnapping, sex abuse, extortion, assault and ethics violations is set to start Monday.

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The case has shocked his friends and former colleagues.

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{snip} If convicted of the most serious charges–sodomy and kidnapping–he faces from 20 years to life in prison.

The oldest incident in the charges dates to 1999, his first year as a circuit judge. The first public claim against Thomas surfaced in lawsuits filed by an inmate in 2001 in Mobile circuit court and in federal court that claimed the judge offered to help him with his case in return for sex. Both lawsuits were dismissed, and Thomas’ reputation remained unblemished.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Nicki Patterson said authorities began looking at Thomas after he changed a jail sentence in 2006 for his cousin, former Mobile County school commissioner David Thomas, even though the case was being handled by another judge. Other cases that Thomas had taken over from other judges without their approval soon surfaced, she said.

Some inmates in those cases described being checked out of the jail for meetings with Thomas in his car or in his private office in the county courthouse. First, there were reports of inmates having to pull down their underwear for spankings with a wooden paddle. Then came allegations of oral and anal sex, according to court records.

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Defense attorney Robert “Cowboy Bob” Clark calls the accusers “lying felons” who are trying to wreck the career of “a prestigious member of the Bar for over 20 years.” The NAACP has defended Thomas and claims race is behind his prosecution.

But Patterson disputes that, noting that each of the victims is black, and says that jail checkout records back up inmates’ claims about trips to Thomas’ private office, and other inmates spotted marks after paddlings. There also is other evidence, according to court records, including one inmate’s seminal fluid on the office carpet. The inmates also were able to describe in detail Thomas’ unmarked windowless office.

Prosecutors say they have 15 current and former male inmates lined up to testify in a trial that could take several weeks.

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His attorney called the indictment “a high-tech lynching” by some in power in Mobile. “They don’t like uppity black folks, and that’s what they consider Herman,” Clark said.

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In 1997, Alabama’s presidential advisory committee recommended President Bill Clinton appoint Thomas as the first black federal judge in the southern district of Alabama. The nomination was never acted on after Thomas failed to get the American Bar Association’s top rating and amid some squabbling within the party.

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