Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
A domestic-relations judge in Montgomery, Alabama, faces a 127-page civil complaint alleging that she acted corruptly in more than two dozen cases.
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) served the complaint yesterday on former Montgomery County Circuit Judge Patricia Warner, who abruptly announced her retirement last week after being elected to a second term in November.
The 74 charges repeatedly use the term “bad faith” to describe Warner’s actions. The legal definition of bad faith is “the fraudulent deception of another person; the intentional or malicious refusal to perform some duty or contractual obligation.” (See the full complaint through a link at the end of this post.)
Warner repeatedly ignored instructions from higher courts, according to the complaint. She has 30 days to respond to the charges. From the Montgomery Advertiser:
“Her disregard of (legal) standards, although given specific notice by the appellate courts, further evidences her bad faith and her intentional disregard of her duty to decide cases based on the law and the facts presented to her court in handling the matters alleged (in this complaint),” according to the complaint served Monday.
Of 29 cases where Warner’s judgment was questioned, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed only two, according to the complaint.
“The other twenty-seven appellate opinions all pointed out major flaws requiring reversal in Judge Warner’s handling of each case. In most cases, Judge Warner’s legal errors were clear and obviously warranted reversal,” according to the report.
We had three reactions upon hearing that an Alabama judge might actually be held accountable for gross misconduct:
(2) What took you so long?
(3) When are you going to start inquiring into the dozens of other Alabama judges who can match Warner step for step in the corruption department?
Our delight at seeing a bad judge outed is tempered by several doses of reality. The Alabama JIC is a notoriously toothless watchdog. I have filed multiple complaints with the JIC, only to receive a form letter stating that my allegations would not even be investigated. I know of numerous individuals who have received similar responses. So why is the JIC taking action against Patricia Warner? Our guess is that her corrupt acts were simply over the top, she pushed the wrong political button at the wrong time, or she ticked off the wrong person or institutional body. Let’s address these three possibilities:
* Warner was “over the top”–I’ve read the entire complaint against Warner, and while she is an abominable judge, she is not all that unusual in Alabama. In fact, we’ve written about other domestic-relations cases where judges have behaved at least as bad as Warner–if not worse.
We have the Jefferson County case of Joseph Blackburn, who was victimized by a hunting club where corrupt lawyers and judges cook domestic relations cases; former judges Charles Calhoun and R.A. “Sonny” Ferguson cheated Blackburn and many others.
We have the Jefferson County case of Angela Turner Drees, who also got caught in the hunting-club trap, with Ferguson applying the primary cheat job.
We have the Shelby County case of Sherry Carroll Rollins, which might be the single most grotesque cheat job I’ve ever encountered in court–and that is saying something. Judge D. Al Crowson took the case, even though jurisdiction already had been established in South Carolina. Crowson proceeded to cut an exceedingly favorable deal for Ted Rollins, Sherry Rollins’ ex husband. Why would Crowson do that? Well, Ted Rollins is a member of one of America’s richest families, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control, and he has strong ties to Bradley Arant, one of Birmingham’s most influential law firms.
How bad are these cases? Blackburn and Drees are lawyers, members of the legal club, but the corruption they’ve witnessed was so bad that they filed federal lawsuits over the handling of their divorce cases. That’s not something lawyers do on a regular basis.
* Warner pushed the wrong political button–One of the counts against Warner was for a case involving Kimberly McGregor Brown, the daughter of gambling magnate Milton McGregor. The complaint alleges that Warner took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Milton McGregor and then gave his daughter favorable treatment in a child-custody case.
This might, indeed, be a matter of serious corruption on Warner’s part. But it’s interesting to note that McGregor currently is the most high-profile defendant in the ongoing federal electronic-bingo prosecution in Alabama. Did Warner simply pick a bad time to side with Milton McGregor, just when federal prosecutors are trying to take him down? We suspect the answer is yes.
* Warner ticked off the wrong person or institutional body–From reading the complaint, one gets the impression that the JIC was not all that concerned that Warner was cheating a bunch of everyday folks. But when she essentially said “screw you” to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court . . . well, that was too much. This, we would guess, is the single biggest reason Warner now finds herself in serious doo-doo.
Is the JIC suddenly serious about all of the judicial corruption that mars the Alabama landscape? We doubt it. The complaint against Warner states, over and over, that she “failed to follow established law in her orders” (page 96), showed “intentional disregard of the laws and facts in matters pending before her” (page 103), issued judgments that were “plainly and palpably wrong” (page 111).
Numerous other Alabama judges do the same thing. I’ve written about them for four-plus years on this blog. I’ve filed appeals about “plainly and palpably wrong” decisions with the Alabama appellate courts, only to have them issue an “affirmed, no opinion” ruling. Multiple lawyers have told me they’ve had similar experiences with their own appeals.
We’re glad to see that Patricia Warner might get what she deserves. But we doubt that the Alabama JIC is serious about cleaning up our courts. JIC needed to make an example of someone, and Patricia Warner proved to be that person–probably for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting the general public.