Favorite word and adequate funding

Accepting the parties’ proposed resolution and stipulation that the Judicial Inquiry Commission could establish by clear and convincing evidence the allegations in its complaint, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspended a judge for 45 days without pay and publicly censured him for (1) before, during, and after court proceedings and in court orders, subjecting attorneys, litigants, jurors, and court staff to inappropriate demeanor and temperament; and (2) declaring statutes regarding court fees unconstitutional and issuing an order redirecting court funds to address budget concerns.  In the Matter of Patterson, Final judgment (Alabama Court of the Judiciary October 27, 2022).

(1) On multiple occasions, the judge made highly inappropriate comments to or in front of attorneys, litigants, jurors, and court staff while on the bench and/or during official court proceedings.

The judge referred to Governor Kay Ivey as “Governor MeMaw” on multiple occasions and often referred to the State’s prison system as “Governor MeMaw’s prison system.”

In front of attorneys and staff, the judge referred to the circuit’s presiding judge as a “G*d d*mn snowflake,” and later as a “snowflake.”

While on the bench during proceedings and in the courtroom, the judge used cuss words and/or profanity before attorneys, litigants, jurors, and court staff.  According to his former court reporter, the judge used “a*s” all the time in court as if it was his favorite word.  After the conclusion of court proceedings, but still in the courtroom, the judge used “sh*t” and “f*cking” in conversation with assistant district attorneys and public defenders although he did not direct the cuss words at them.  The judge constantly referred to the circuit’s financial state as “dead a*s broke” and “broke a*s” even in orders.

While addressing a jury pool that included an Asian American, the judge used an Asian accent and asked if everyone spoke “Engrish.”  The judge immediately apologized to the jury pool, later characterizing the comment as a “stupid, stupid joke.”  He also apologized on Facebook:

Yesterday, while qualifying the jury pool, I made a joke in very poor taste about whether everyone could speak English.  I immediately recognized and apologized for my blunder, and I do so again.

When speaking with attorneys, the judge has referred to himself as “Prison Patterson” and “Judge Hard-a*s.”

In court, the judge referred to defendants being “somebody’s girlfriend” while they are incarcerated.  When covering another judge’s docket, the judge said more than once to defendants that they would be “butt raped in the penitentiary.”

(2) After Mandy Brady did not show up for a jury trial before the judge because she had mistakenly been released from custody, the judge ordered the circuit court clerk and the jail warden to show cause why Brady had been released from custody.  In his order, the judge stated that the circuit is in an “austere funding environment,” the clerk’s office is understaffed, and it costs the judicial system $4,000 for a 300-person jury venire to appear at the courthouse.  He continued:

Thus, when this court ensures that bond is revoked, and when a defendant is already in custody when her bond is revoked, I am wondering why and how she is not here today—and again, we are wasting valuable resources when jurors are here ready to go and the accused is not.

At the show-cause hearing on September 12, the judge found that the circuit court clerk was not reasonably or adequately funded as required by the state constitution, that that underfunding had caused the inadvertent release of a defendant who was a danger to citizens of the circuit, and that the clerk “is in imminent danger of not fulfilling her constitutional and statutory duties to support” the courts.  Therefore, the judge held, “Any state statute or act that charges litigants in Mobile County Alabama any fee involving litigation, which then takes funds away from this county leaving the Clerk and her staff underfunded . . . is unconstitutional as applied.”  The judge ordered the circuit court clerk to withhold 10% of court fees and costs collected until the state adequately and reasonably funded the circuit clerks’ office.

The judge had not given notice to the Alabama Attorney General that the constitutionality of state acts and statutes would be an issue at the show-cause hearing.  On receiving notice of the judge’s order, the attorney general filed a petition for a writ of mandamus.  The Alabama Supreme Court granted the writ, finding that the judge had gone “far beyond [his] authority to conduct a contempt proceeding.”

In addition to the suspension and censure, the judge was ordered to refrain from joking or other inappropriate or offensive colloquies with litigants, attorneys, or court staff while in the courtroom; to refrain from profanity and off-color language in the courthouse including in chambers or other private settings; to complete 15 hours of education on judicial ethics to include at least 3 hours of training focused on cultural sensitivity; to review weekly emails forwarded to him by the Judicial Inquiry Commission from the Center for Judicial Ethics for 6 months; and to meet with another judge as a mentor monthly for 6 months.

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