LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. — It has been six months since Limestone County District Judge Doug Patterson was indicted on charges alleging he stole from elderly clients and from a court juvenile fund. He was set to go on trial this week, until the pandemic delayed jury trials until at least September.
But Patterson, who’s been on paid leave since August, will soon go on trial on charges he violated Alabama’s judicial ethics code.
The trial before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary is independent of his criminal case, but the ethics charges stem from those same allegations. His lawyers had argued it was not fair to bring this case to trial before his criminal case, but the court of the judiciary disagreed, pointing out he is still being paid a judge’s salary while doing no work.
State payroll records show Patterson is still being paid a gross salary of $5,400 every two weeks and he’s been paid more than $100,000 by the state since September 2019.
While a criminal case is pending, the defendant generally can’t be made to testify. It keeps prosecutors from taking testimony from the civil case and using it in the criminal trial. But the ethics charges are that he committed the crimes in the indictment or gave the appearance of doing so. That means they’re dealing with the same basic facts in the ethics case. Patterson’s attorney said Thursday the defense is keeping its options open.
Patterson was placed on suspension in August while a grand jury looked into the theft allegations. He was indicted in December.
A key piece of the ethics case is an apparent confession letter bearing Patterson’s signature that he sent a fellow judge in December. It reads in part:
“No excuses are offered, because the things I did were not, and are not excusable. I betrayed the trust placed in my by my disabled and elderly clients by stealing from their funds for which I owed a fiduciary duty and trust.
“Then I betrayed the trust of the people of Limestone County by stealing from funds belonging to them and placed under my control.”
Patterson’s lawyer, Chuck Warren, said Patterson didn’t write the apparent confession letter. Warren declined to comment on whether Patterson signed it.
The trial is set for July 9-10 in Montgomery.