LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. – Indicted Limestone County District Judge Doug Patterson’s first appearance in court Tuesday as a defendant was supposed to be a formality – entering a plea to the charges against him – but it turned out to be anything but routine.
Through his attorney, Patterson claimed that Limestone County presiding Circuit Judge Robert Baker – who isn’t hearing the case — tried to intimidate him into a pre-indictment plea deal.
Patterson’s lawyer told the court that Baker sent Patterson a text telling him that if he did not take a pre-indictment plea deal, he would impanel a grand jury to indict him.
Patterson did enter a formal plea Tuesday: not guilty to the theft and abuse of office charges against him. He is accused of stealing from a court-operated juvenile fund and stealing from disabled, elderly clients, while in private practice.
The judge in the case set a June 15 trial date.
Following the hearing, Patterson’s attorney Chuck Warren addressed one of the unusual details in the case, Patterson’s apparent confession letter he sent to Baker and other court officials in December.
Warren said Patterson didn’t “compose” the letter, but declined to say who did or if Patterson signed it.
In a court filing last week, Patterson’s attorneys argued they needed access to the names of the grand jurors who indicted Patterson and the records and evidence used in those proceedings. They argued the grand jurors were subject to improper, undue influence, which tainted the grand jury’s indictment.
The defense argued the same grand jury that indicted Patterson also indicted Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely. Blakely was indicted in August, Patterson was indicted in December.
Warren said they wanted to see the grand jury transcripts to see what involvement Judge Baker could have had in Patterson’s grand jury. They said if he was involved he could have had undue influence over the jurors. The defense pointed out that in the press release announcing Patterson’s indictment Attorney Steve Marshall thanked Baker for his assistance in the matter.
The state called the argument an ambush.
They said it had no factual basis. Attorneys for the state said Judge Baker empaneled the grand jury, excused one juror and then never had any other contact with them.
Prosecutors told the judge that a grand jury transcript should not be released for a “fishing expedition”
The judge said that the defense had virtually no factual evidence – so it did not meet the threshold needed to access grand jury testimony or documents.
The motion for those records was denied today by Judge Steven Haddock.
Patterson, who is also being investigated by the Judicial Inquiry Commission, declined comment following the hearing.
Patterson is being prosecuted by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.