AG asks court to set hearing date for Limestone County judge indicted on theft, elderly exploitation charges

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LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. -- The Alabama Attorney General's Office filed a motion asking the Limestone County Circuit Court to set an arraignment date for a judge who was indicted last month on multiple charges.

Limestone County District Court Judge Douglas Patterson was indicted Dec. 11 on charges of third-degree theft, financial exploitation of the elderly and using his position for personal gain.

Douglas Patterson

According to the motion, the prosecution attempted pre-arraignment negotiations, but the effort was unsuccessful. Prosecutors said there is no reason to delay Patterson's arraignment to discuss a scheduling order.

The motion asks that a trial date be set for two reasons -- to notify the public if Patterson indeed abused his position or not and because he continues to get paid. State records show that as a district court judge, Patterson is being paid $5,400 every two weeks.

For fiscal 2019, that's a total of nearly $126,000. So far, in the fiscal year that began in October, while Patterson has not been on the bench, he's been paid at least $32,000.

Alabama has a process to investigate -- and if necessary -- remove a judge who violates judicial rules. The Judicial Inquiry Commission review process requires a formal complaint be filed -- which is not a public record residents can look at. After that, the commission would review if a judge has violated the judicial canons.
But, even during that process, up to and until a ruling from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary proceeding, the judge would still be eligible to be paid.

The motion goes on to say other Limestone County judges have to work extra to ensure important business proceeds as usual.

According to state law:

"A judge shall be disqualified from acting as a judge, without loss of salary, while there is pending (1) an indictment or an information charging him in the United States with a crime punishable as a felony under a state or federal law, or (2) a complaint against him filed by the judicial inquiry commission with the court of the judiciary."

Patterson was appointed a judge in 2016 by former governor Robert Bentley. Prior to that he worked as an attorney, including work as a conservator for incapacitated people,  the Alabama Attorney General's Office said.

Patterson is accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars by writing about 70 checks to himself from the Limestone County Juvenile Court Services Fund over a period of years. More than $47,000 that was supposed to go to juvenile programs and juvenile court staff among other things, prosecutors said.

Patterson also is accused of taking money before becoming a judge. According to the attorney general's office, Patterson took $47,800 from the conservatorship account of an elderly client. Over a six and a half year period, prosecutors said Patterson drained the account and left less than $200 in it when he was done. The client, who was living in a nursing home for military veterans, has since died.

Another person Patterson worked for as a conservator, also had between $499 and $1,500 taken from his estate's account after his death, prosecutors said.

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