By Rob Holbert
The first full week of the trial of ex-Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas was so full of information and twists and turns, any attempt to fully describe them all in this paper would take about 20 pages of copy.
Lagniappe has covered each day of court extensively and all of our detailed articles can be found at www.lagniappemobile.com. In this space, we'll attempt to offer an overview of the trial and some of the highlights thus far.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Things kicked off with current Presiding Mobile County Circuit Judge Charile Graddick on the stand offering testimony about common judicial practices, as well as Thomas' actions. Defense Attorney Robert "Cowboy Bob" Clark attempted to undermine Graddick's ethical high ground by asking him about his relationship with local attorney Lee Hale, Jr., whose father had worked for Graddick when he was Alabama Attorney General, and who Graddick has repeatedly appointed to indigent defense work even while Hale was facing criminal charges of his own.
"You continued to give him cases off your docket while he was facing drug charges," Clark asked Graddick, to which the judge admitted he had.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Thomas faced eight of his accusers in the first week. Most told stories of being met at Metro Jail in a copier room off of the docket room and being released into the judge's custody. Many of them said he drove them to Government Plaza and took them to his chambers.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ The first alleged victim told of being taken up to his office in a closed elevator like those used by judges, taken to Thomas' office and spanked with a belt with his pants and underwear around his ankles. He claimed to have felt Thomas' hand on his anus and turned around to see the judge with his penis exposed.
"I turned around and his penis was out and it was erect. I kind of buckled and I said, 'Please.' He told me to turn around. I was crying," Witness One said. "When I stood back up he started whipping me again. I was like, 'Judge Thomas no! Don't do this!' He just kept whipping me."
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ A few of the witnesses had severe problems with their previous statements to investigators that contradicted their testimony during the trial. These came out during cross-examination from the defense.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ A good bit of two days of the trial so far centered around the testimony of State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures and her son Akil -- though other media decided to keep both Figures' names secret.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Figures testified she first spoke with Thomas about Akil because he had "a great reputation of helping out troubled young men." She also looked at Thomas as a mentor for her troubled son.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ She said that in 2004, they had a conversation where Thomas asked her for permission to paddle Akil, who was then 22. Thomas told her he'd had success with this tactic with other young men. Since nothing else had worked, she granted him permission, although she told prosecutors she hadn't thought it would mean paddling his naked behind.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ When defense attorney Jeff Deen asked Figures if she had called Thomas 30 to 40 times about Akil, she defensively responded, "I have never used my position to get leniency for my son." Later she added, "Mr. Deen, you are trying to make it out like I called him every time Akil hit a bump and that's tee-totally not true."
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Debbie Gardner Williams, a former criminal assistant for Thomas, testified Vivian Figures called the office two-to-four times a day when Akil was in jail, and that people on staff had a name for her she was unwilling to share with the courtroom. She drew laughter from the courtroom with her imitation of the state senator.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Akil testified he was taken to Thomas' now-infamous "secret office" and told by the judge, "Stop playing, Mr. Figures and drop them." When he didn't drop his boxers, he said Thomas told him, "Stop playing me, Mr. Figures." He then proceeded to beat him with a belt, Figures claimed.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Figures vehemently denied any sexual contact with Thomas.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Drug Court Judge Edward Blount took the stand on day five to talk about Akil Figures treatment in his court and Thomas' involvement in the cases.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ He testified that he was contacted by Thomas and told to release Figures from jail because, "I was in a campaign and it could go badly for me if I didn't."
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Several witnesses claimed Thomas told them they didn't need to hire attorneys in his courtroom, and that he would appoint one for them, sending them to James Brandyburg, who is a fraternity brother of Thomas' in the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity where they both serve in leadership roles. A Web site lists Thomas as the leader, or "Polemarch," and Brandyburg as the recordkeeper.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Witness Three described the paddle Thomas allegedly used to spank him as carrying the Kappa Alpha Psi emblem.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Witness Eight testified to being paddled at Thomas' home. He drew laughter from the courtroom when he testified, "This was a real whoopin'. I kept sayin' that shit hurt man! He tore my ass up! That shit hurt!"
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Beth Drude, an assistant to Circuit Court Judge Rick Stout, told of finding a box full of letters - "jail mail" - Thomas had apparently received from prisoners over the years. The box was found in January 2008, months after Thomas left the bench. Drude said there were "hundreds of them," and that she had stumbled across them while trying to find creamer and sugar for a jury. Some were letters written from the alleged victims.
ΓΆβ‚¬ΒΆ Witness Four, a man with an IQ of 55 testified to Thomas forcing him to put his mouth on the judge's penis after a paddling, and that the judge was holding a bottle of "KY" lubricating jelly.
Keep up with the trial as it happens. Lagniappe will be posting updates every day during the trial on Twitter or at Facebook. Also look for a complete wrap-up each evening at lagniappemobile.com