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Bar panel doubts Thomas

Finds young inmates truthful about
bare butt paddlings in recent report

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Unlike the jury that cleared ex-Judge Herman Thomas of criminal charges linked to the alleged sexual abuse and paddling of young inmates under his authority, a state Bar Association panel found them credible victims of “sexually motivated assaults” in barring Thomas from practicing law in Alabama.

Thomas was “both unreliable and untruthful” in his testimony to a five-member disciplinary broad that convened in a closed hearing here three weeks ago in the ceremonial courtroom at the Mobile County Courthouse, according to the panel’s report and order.

Thomas is appealing
his disbarment to
the Alabama
Supreme Court. In
doing so, a record
of his recent
becomes public.

A judge here for more than 15 years until surrendering his robe rather than face trial before the Court of the Judiciary in 2007, Thomas at one point faced more than 100 criminal charges relating to paddling prisoners for his sexual gratification. They allegedly received lenient sentences in which they remained free under lengthy probations that kept them in the judge’s orbit.

Either by jury verdict or in a ruling from specially-appointed Judge Claud Nielson of Demopolis, Thomas was acquitted of all the charges against him despite the prosecution's parade of rogues with their consistently damning testimony.

But the five member bar panel – hearing officer Billy Bedsole, James R. Pratt III, Phillip W. McCallum, Christy Crow and lay member or non-lawyer Leon Garrett – believed Akil Figures, Josef Stewart, Joseph McCoy, Jamon Green, Mitee Meadry, Thaddeus Hale, Adrien Pritchett and Douglas Hill.

The witnesses claimed that Thomas leveraged their vulnerability in the criminal justice system with his judicial authority to force them to choose between jail or bending over to expose their bare butts for Thomas to paddle or whip, sometimes while the judge masturbated.

The evidence was “clear and convincing” that Thomas spanked and paddled criminal defendants on his docket, the panel determined. Furthermore, the panel found that the spankings had nothing to do with “mentoring or discipline,” but rather the judge’s “own sexual gratification.”

“It is clear to this board that these young men were coerced into complying with Thomas under the threat of being sentenced to or returned to jail,” the panel declared. “Moreover, these spankings were not among those of the nature that a parent might give to their own child, but rather were sexually motivated assaults.”

Alabama Bar Association attorneys Tony McLain and Jeremy McIntire and Thomas’s defense, headed by Mobile attorney Robert F. “Cowboy Bob” Clark, agreed prior to the hearing to use, where possible, transcripts and evidence from the former judge’s criminal trial. The bar offered the transcripts of testimony of Figures, Stewart, McCoy, Green, Meadry and Hale. Thomas submitted a witness transcript of Macourteny Mongham.

Appearing as live witnesses at the bar proceeding here Feb. 22 were Thomas, Circuit Judge Rick Stout, Circuit Clerk JoJo Schwarzauer, Akil Figures’ mother, state Sen. Vivian Figures, Pritchett, Hill and Tracy Yancy of the Mobile County District Attorney’s office.

Contrary to Akil Figures’ testimony, Thomas denied ever spanking the lanky young inmate, according to the panel’s report on the proceeding. He offered the testimony of Figures’ jail mate, Mongham, who
claimed Figures openly schemed
to “make up stories” about
Thomas. But Vivian Figures
testified that Thomas asked for
and received her permission to
spank Akil, later even hearing
from Thomas himself that he
had done so. The bar presented
letters from Akil in which he
referred to Thomas’s spankings,
written well before any similar
allegations had become public.

Thomas is currently opposing the incumbent Figures in the June 1 Democratic primary for the state Senate, District 33 seat. Figures declined comment on the bar panel's findings.

The testimony of the young men followed a similar thread of crime and punishment by paddle or jail. In all instances, the panel found them “reliable and truthful” to Thomas’s discredit.

Thomas admitted spanking “up to five” young men while he was a judge, according to the bar’s report. Furthermore, according to the report, Thomas acknowledged that their pants and underwear may have been down and he may have directed them to drop their trousers and shorts.

Thomas testified that he believed that corporal punishment could be an effective form of discipline under appropriate circumstances, but the ex-judge declined to define, explain or elaborate on “appropriate circumstances” justifying such spankings, the report states.

Thomas said he owned three paddles but never took any of them to the courthouse. However, Stout and Schwarzauer, neither with any reason to speak falsely, each testified to seeing a wooden fraternity paddle in Thomas’s chambers. Thomas has long been active in the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity here.

The panel was skeptical of Thomas’s Swiss cheese memory that registered who he had not spanked but could not recall who he had spanked.

Thomas was “less than candid,” the panel found.

“Thomas admitted to spanking minors and adults in the community on two to five occasions … yet, Thomas was unable to recall any of the names of the individuals that he had spanked,” reads the report. “Thomas could also not recall when he last spanked someone or when he had stopped doing so.

“… Thomas was simply untruthful in asserting that he could remember who he had not spanked but could not remember who he had spanked,” the panel concluded.

The panel's five members weighed aggravating and mitigating circumstances in imposing disbarment on the former judge.

Among the aggravating circumstances were: dishonest or selfish motives; a pattern of misconduct; multiple offenses; deceptive practices during the disciplinary process; and the vulnerability of the victims.

Among the mitigating circumstances were: no prior disciplinary record and character and reputation.

In the mitigating column under “remorse,” the panel deemed “does not exist.”

Thomas did not immediately return a phone call. Clark said the bar proceeding's unfavorable outcome was always a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, it was a bridge that had to be crossed on the way to the state Supreme Court which may not rule on Thomas's appeal before the end of the year, said Clark.

Unless the high court reverses the suspension, Thomas cannot practice law in Alabama for five years. After five years, he can apply to the bar for re-instatement. 
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