(CN) – It’s a case that bypassed Alabama’s Judicial Inquiry Commission established to enforce the conduct of the state’s judges and went straight to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the FBI.
On Thursday morning, after a grand jury in Limestone County handed down a three-count indictment, the state’s attorney general’s office and the FBI arrested District Judge Douglas Patterson for allegedly taking $47,800 from an elderly veteran and $47,000 from the county’s Juvenile Court Services Fund.
If convicted, Patterson could face up to 20 years in prison. His bond was set at $30,000 and he is suspended from his position.
“The allegations contained in this indictment shock the conscience and illustrate a callous and selfish disregard for the law as well as the welfare of Alabama’s most vulnerable citizens: children and incapacitated seniors. If proven, Patterson’s actions debase the judicial system,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement.
The case began when a fellow judge in a county on the northern edge of Alabama, the county sitting to the west of Huntsville, went to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office about his concerns regarding Patterson’s conduct.
Marshall specifically thanked Judge Robert Baker, the presiding circuit court judge for Limestone County, and court employees for helping with the investigation.
Then-Governor Robert Bentley, who resigned amid a scandal in 2017, first appointed Patterson to fill a vacancy in 2016. The voters of Limestone County elected Patterson after he ran unopposed as a Republican candidate in the 2016 general election.
But the attorney general’s office says Patterson’s misconduct began before he became a judge.
In March 2010, Patterson became the conservator of an elderly man named Charles Hardy, who was living in a nursing home for military veterans. The state claims Patterson engaged in financial exploitation of the elderly when he withdrew the man’s funds into his business, personal and law firm accounts over a period of six years.
Some of the transfers occurred after Patterson took the bench.
The third count alleges Patterson, while serving as a conservator for Rudolph Allen, withdrew a sum between $499 and $1,500 from Allen’s estate for his own use after the man had died.
As part of his judicial duties, Patterson oversaw the county’s juvenile court system. But prosecutors say Patterson wrote himself 70 checks from a fund used to help pay for juvenile programs and functions of the court. The funds were intended to benefit children in the county but the state claims the checks Patterson wrote ended up being used for his own benefit and personal expenses.
Attempts to reach Patterson for comment at two phone numbers associated with him were unsuccessful.
Scott Hoyem, a spokesman for the Alabama Administrative Office of the Courts, declined to comment on the case when reached by phone. He said, however, that efforts were made to ensure the events surrounding Patterson’s arrest would not disrupt or overburden the court system in Limestone County.
Terry Lathan, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said the party wasn’t aware of any issues in Patterson’s background when it qualified him and the governor made the appointment.
“When it comes to elections, it is ultimately the voters who vet the candidates running in their community based on reputation and actions as they are the ones who know their local candidates best,” Latham said.
Other judges in the county have taken on Patterson’s caseload.