Mobile Alabama judge arrested for kidnapping, sodomy www.privateofficer.com
al.com Herman Thomas, while a Mobile County circuit judge, checked male inmates out of Metro Jail to exert control over them and force them into sexual activity, according to indictments released Friday.
About a year after stepping down from the bench, Thomas was arrested Friday outside the same jail on charges of kidnapping, sodomy, extortion, sex abuse and ethics violations.
The bow-tied lawyer known for his energetic support of community programs, his time as a University of South Alabama trustee and for presiding over legal cases since the 1990s found himself standing against a wall to have his jail mugshot taken.
A special grand jury met for three weeks this month and returned 57 felony charges against Thomas. The indictment lists nine alleged victims, each of them current or former inmates.
“These are very serious charges,” some carrying up to life in prison, said District Attorney John Tyson Jr. Thomas was taken into custody outside the jail as his attorney, Robert “Cowboy Bob” Clark, held an afternoon news conference amid reports of an impending arrest.
With a handful of other lawyers looking on in support — and Thomas remaining quiet and answering no questions — Clark suggested his client’s indictment was motivated by racism.
“This is racism at its very finest. We ought to be proud we elected those bastards,” said Clark in an apparent reference to Tyson and former Thomas colleagues on the bench.
As Clark was speaking, an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office quietly walked up to Thomas, tapped him on the shoulder, whispered something to him and then accompanied Thomas — without placing him in handcuffs — to the jail 10 feet away.
There, Thomas was photographed and booked, with bail set at $287,500, according to the jail log. He was later released.
Each of Thomas’ alleged victims at one time faced charges in Mobile County Circuit Court, according to online court records. The allegations against them ranged from criminal mischief to murder. At least eight of the alleged victims appeared on Thomas’ docket, according to court records.
One of the inmates went before Thomas on multiple occasions over the years for several felony charges. He was eventually sent to prison for a short time, but Thomas ordered him released early.
Finally, he ended up sentenced in federal court and later released. He has since been accused of murder and attempted murder.
According to Friday’s grand jury allegations, Thomas “knowingly” subjected the young men “to sexual contact, by forcible compulsion.”
In one case, Thomas is accused of forcing an inmate to have oral sex with him. Also, Thomas used the inmate’s labor to benefit himself, according to the indictment.
The indictment repeatedly makes reference to Thomas “paddling and/or whipping” inmates.
When Thomas was a judge, he had a storage room furnished like an office just steps from his eighth-floor chamber at Mobile Government Plaza. It was there, several criminal defendants have alleged in affidavits and in court, that Thomas would ask to paddle their buttocks.
In most cases, the Press-Register does not publish the names of people who are alleged to be victims of sex crimes; the newspaper is not printing the names of the men identified in the indictment against Thomas.
After leaving the jail and with Thomas behind bars, Clark showed up at a Tyson news conference and began ranting again about the district attorney and his office.
Investigator Tony Goubil asked Clark to leave. Red-faced, Clark said that he was not going anywhere unless he was placed under arrest.
“OK, you are under arrest,” Goubil told him before leading him out.
A little later, a calmer Clark returned, saying Tyson had permitted him to stay as long as he kept quiet, and that he was not, after all, under arrest.
Tyson said Clark’s accusations that Thomas’ troubles stem from racism at Government Plaza are “absolute nonsense.”
Nicki Patterson, the chief assistant district attorney, later pointed out that all the alleged victims are black. Thomas is black.
Tyson said his office began investigating Thomas shortly after he resigned his office in October 2007. The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, the Mobile Police Department, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division assisted in the investigation, Tyson said.
Thomas’ resignation came in the face of a pending trial before Alabama’s Court of the Judiciary, where he was charged with dozens of ethical violations.
Tyson said his investigation is not over and that the special grand jury could be called back into session at any time.
He used the news conference to invite anyone to come forward if what happened to the alleged victims “happened to you. We would be very interested in hearing from you.”
Earlier Friday, all the judges on the circuit bench recused themselves from presiding over Thomas’ case.
Presiding Circuit Judge Charles Graddick said late Friday that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb had appointed retired Marengo County Circuit Judge Claude Neilson to handle Thomas’ proceedings.
“I am flabbergasted. The only thing I’ve known Herman Thomas to be guilty of is helping people,” said Willie Huntley Jr., a lawyer who knows Thomas professionally and through their work together with 100 Black Men of Mobile, a civic organization on which Thomas serves as secretary of the executive committee.
Criminal charges brought against former Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas could result in the immediate suspension of his license to practice law, a state bar officials said Friday.
The Alabama State Bar does not comment on specific cases. But the Montgomery-based organization’s general counsel, Tony McLain, said the bar seeks the immediate suspension of lawyers facing criminal charges when authorities believe the defendants to be a threat to the public or their clients.
Typically, those cases involve allegations of theft from clients, McLain said.
When the bar seeks an immediate suspension, the accused attorney can request a hearing within seven days to contest it.
Short of an immediate suspension, McLain said, bar officials monitor criminal cases. If an attorney is convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors, a bar committee decides on a punishment ranging from 45 days’ suspension to disbarment.
A disbarred attorney can apply for reinstatement after five years, McLain said.
The bar association also can discipline an attorney without a criminal conviction if bar panel determines his actions violated his oath as a lawyer.
Following leaving the bench in 2007, Thomas began working in the Mobile office of attorney James Brandyburg.
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