Suspended Mobile County judge accused of spanking prisoners
By GARY McELROY, Staff Reporter, Press-Register, September 5, 2007

Photo: Associated Press
Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas

Allegation: The judge would ask the young men to drop their pants and prepare to be spanked

Authorities investigating paddling allegations against Judge Herman Thomas. New accusations emerge as suspended jurist prepares to face ethics trial

Authorities are investigating allegations that now-suspended Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas periodically removed prisoners from Mobile County Metro Jail and spanked them in a room at the courthouse, according to courthouse sources involved in the inquiry.

Once inside the room, according to the sources, the judge would ask the young men to drop their pants and prepare to be spanked with what they described as a wooden or fraternity-like paddle.

These new allegations arise as Thomas prepares for an Oct. 29 ethics trial in Montgomery that could permanently remove him from the bench.

When contacted by telephone Tuesday by the Press-Register and asked about the alleged spanking episodes, Thomas simply said, "This is news to me. I don't have any comment."

According to sources, between a half-dozen and a dozen young men have shared their accounts with officials.

The Press-Register could not determine whether any of the young men knew each other or knew of the others' allegations.

Judges, prosecutors and police officers are often favorite targets of defendants and convicted criminals who make accusations in order to try to get themselves out of legal trouble.

At least one young man has alleged that as a prelude to the paddling, Thomas told him that if he had been spanked when he was a child, he would not have found himself in jail later, according to one of the newspaper's sources.

Investigating officials were able to reconcile jail logs noting when Thomas removed the young men from Metro Jail and when he returned them to custody later, sources said.

Not all of the young men making the allegations were in jail when they had their encounters with Thomas, according to the sources. At least one of Thomas' accusers told authorities he was out of Metro Jail when the judge summoned him to the courthouse on a Sunday night.

In August, according to sources, a room matching descriptions provided by some of the young men was located just off a corridor that leads to the jury room connected to Thomas' courtroom.

Thomas' official chambers and offices can be reached through a door behind his courtroom bench.

The Press-Register was shown the small room in late August.

When asked about it Tuesday by a reporter, Thomas had no comment.

The room is about 6 feet by 8 feet, appearing better suited for storage than for use as an office.

Some sections of the courthouse's sixth and eighth floors in the north tower of Mobile Government Plaza were built in a layout similar to Thomas' section. And some of the corresponding small rooms in those other sections are used for storage, while others sit empty.

Some judges on the circuit bench have said they were not aware of these small rooms, and none said that the rooms in their own sections, or anywhere else at the courthouse, were used as extra offices.

But the small room in Thomas' section appeared to be an office.

The walls were covered with framed pictures, awards and certificates received by the judge.

Family pictures also sat in a tall, narrow bookcase that held law books and other documents.

A huge desk dominated the room, and behind it was a well-worn leather chair with a high back. Just to the right was an adjustable secretary's chair, its seat cranked down low, about a foot from the floor.

According to sources, sometime after Thomas came aboard as a circuit judge, he changed the locks and occupied the room.

It was unclear how many others on Thomas' staff may have known about it.

Thomas, on the circuit bench since 1999 and before that a District Court judge beginning in 1995, became the subject of an investigation by Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission last fall.

The first set of complaints against Thomas included allegations that he helped his cousin, former school board member David Thomas Jr., substitute a week-long criminal sentence in the overcrowded Metro Jail for the less-crowded Prichard Jail.

After the change in jail venue was exposed, David Thomas was forced by Circuit Judge Joseph "Rusty" Johnston to spend another week in jail, this time at Metro.

Those complaints and others resulted in Judge Thomas' suspension from the bench earlier this year.

A second wave of ethical questions against him appeared in the summer -- bringing the number of complaints to 30. The later allegations accused Thomas of usurping cases from his fellow judges on the circuit bench and, in some cases, changing sentences to less severe penalties.



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